Every night for the past month, usually around dinnertime depending on the day’s soccer-packed schedule, Lina Granados flips open her laptop in her hotel room in Bogota, Colombia, to video chat with her parents a continent away in their Ashburn home.
The laptop also allows the Briar Woods senior to keep up with school while she chases a dream, filling her days with endless soccer drills, scrimmages and competition as she tries to land a spot on the Colombian under-20 women’s national team.
And if she makes the team, the Colombian-born Granados could be away from home and school even longer.
“It’s my last year of school and it’s hard, but it’s just an experience that I wouldn’t give up,” said Granados, 17, in an interview from Colombia. “I would take these two months off any day.”
Soccer always came naturally to Granados. She started playing at 4 years old, when she first came to the United States. Granados was born in Bogota to Colombian parents, Francisco and Hilda Luz, before moving to Northern Virginia because of her father’s job with Exxon Mobil.
As a promising 15-year-old, Lina was invited to try out with the Colombian U-20 team and narrowly missed the final cut. This time, however, has already been different.
“Two years ago, I feel as though they thought I was the little baby, not mature enough to handle the situation,” said Granados, a Vanderbilt recruit and second-team All-Met last spring. “And I can see it. I can see it differently this time around. I was still learning a lot and I was still young.”
The daily training has been grueling. The 25 players vying for 20 spots are at a hotel in downtown Bogota, where they eat, sleep and practice under close watch. They wake at 7 a.m. daily, are weighed each morning and are sent to bed by 9:45 p.m., with computers and cellphones collected each night. (Granados keeps her computer because of schoolwork.) At least twice a week they will practice for up to six hours.
Not only has the level of training been an adjustment for Granados, but the style of play, too. On her club team, the McLean Strikers, and her high school team, the 5-foot-7 Granados plays forward, a position where her quickness and improvisation skills shine.
The Colombian team, however, plays a formation that has Granados at outside wing, having to play defense and sprint forward on offense. It has pushed her to train harder to keep up with the players who have grown up playing that style and system. And although she is bilingual and speaks Spanish to her parents, she also had to learn some technical soccer terms that she didn’t know in Spanish.
“The game over here is a lot more creative, it’s just kind of the Colombian passion,” said Granados, who at first was known to her teammates as the “American one.” “They are very good players, very good technical players. But I find myself being able to play with them and starting in every game we’ve had. So it’s been a good experience.”
Under the direction of Coach Ricardo Rozo Ocampo, the U-20 team finished second in the 2010 South American Women’s Championship to Brazil and placed fourth in that year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany, the country’s best finish.
“Soccer-wise, it’s great,” Francisco Granados said in Spanish. “She goes from practicing once or twice a week with her club team to practicing twice a day. . . . For us, it’s great that she’s going to learn from a successful coach. But also, I see she is maturing as a person because she’s seeing things she didn’t know existed, learning from the players she is with and hearing about where they’ve come from and overcome it using soccer as an opportunity.”
Rozo Ocampo, who invited Granados to train two years ago, says she is adapting well to the Colombian style of play.
“She has great skills that make her attractive to us and that’s why I called to invite her, and we stayed in touch,” Rozo Ocampo said in a telephone interview. “It’s good for her and good for us.”
Granados, who considers herself an American, hopes to one day represent the United States on the soccer pitch. Nevertheless, experiencing the passion for the game in her native country has been eye-opening. One night, the coaches took the team to a movie theater, and while Granados was buying popcorn a middle-aged woman noticed the blue national team jacket she was wearing and asked her for a photo and autograph. Soon other strangers were doing the same.
Granados faces challenges unique to the rest of those trying out. While other players get to nap during the scheduled afternoon rest period, Granados has homework to do. Because the Colombian school calendar is different and some players are older, Granados is the only one still dealing with academics.
Physics and math classes are the toughest while she is away from her Briar Woods teachers. She has a calculus tutor in Colombia who helps her for two hours every other day. Granados consults her textbooks and Google for help with schoolwork. (She will take her January mid-terms when she returns.)
“Because it’s such an extraordinary opportunity . . . her teachers are willing to accommodate her and allow her to do her work from there,” Briar Woods Coach Ann Vierkorn said. “Everyone has been so great about it. Of course Lina’s such a nice kid that people say, ‘We’ll work it out.’ She’ll work hard on keeping up with her studies.”
For now, while she’s also working hard at earning a spot on the Colombian roster, she keeps in touch with what’s happening in Ashburn through near-nightly Skype chats, text messages, Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s hard during this season because it’s Christmas and New Year’s and time to be with your family, but I mean it’s just another sacrifice you have to make to reach for your dreams,” she said. “It’s worth it.”