The Washington Post

Local high school soccer standouts chase the dream of playing in World Cup

South County’s Andi Sullivan, left, and Woodgrove’s Brittany Basinger are part of the youth national team pool for next summer’s U-20 World Cup in Canada. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The e-mail could come at any time — during school, next week in the midst of soccer practice — or, God forbid, never. The stark possibility of the latter is what keeps Brittany Basinger and Andi Sullivan on edge, frequently refreshing their inboxes in search of a message from the U.S. under-20 women’s national team.

Though Basinger, a senior defender at Woodgrove, and Sullivan, a junior forward at South County, are part of the youth national team pool for next summer’s U-20 World Cup in Canada, an invite to each of the training camps isn’t guaranteed. And since the coaching staff doesn’t send mass e-mails, one friend’s good news still could mean another day of waiting for the other.

“Each camp experience is so cool, and you want to be there, so it adds to the suspense, and I guess the coaches are evaluating how you handle stress,” said Sullivan, who is the top-ranked recruit for the 2014 class according to Top Drawer Soccer. “But it also adds fuel to the fire. It’s what pushes me to go out and train, even in the rain.”

Just about everything Basinger and Sullivan do — the club teams, personal training sessions, red-eye flights from camp to make it back for school — is geared toward their dream of playing in the World Cup or Olympics. But as two of the youngest members of the U-20 pool, the desire to enjoy their high school experience also tugs on them, making their schedules all the more hectic.

“It can get way crazy,” said Basinger, who also played on the U-17 squad with Sullivan, Good Counsel senior and recent U-20 call-up Midge Purce and Patuxent alum Lindsey Lane. “You try to take one thing at a time, but with so many things going on, you also have to be smart and listen to your body.”

“The girls want to have that high school experience, and you want them to have it, too, but with players like Andi and Brittany, they need to train at a high level to maintain their edge for the national team,” South County Coach Jean Coder said. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Last June, Basinger saw her soccer worlds collide when Woodgrove’s state title run delayed her arrival to a U-17 camp. After helping the Wolverines win the Virginia AA crown in Radford, Basinger zipped to Dulles Airport for an evening flight to California, where another grueling week of training awaited her.

“I love my teammates, and they’ve been so supportive, so I didn’t want to let them down,” Basinger said. “It can be hard trying to meet all the demands and do all that you want to do, but I love the challenge and opportunity to play at the high school, club and national levels.”

Basinger and Sullivan’s cluttered schedules often leave little time for high school games, meaning on some nights neither Woodgrove nor South County has its best player in uniform.

“The girls want to have that high school experience, and you want them to have it, too, but with players like Andi and Brittany, they need to train at a high level to maintain their edge for the national team,” South County Coach Jean Coder said. “That’s something coaches understand, and while the hard part can be getting all the teammates on board, everyone has been supportive.”

After Sullivan was selected to the U-20 pool, Coder held a team meeting before the season, reminding her players about the importance of being prepared no matter whether Sullivan was available. In turn, for games such as the Stallions’ April contest against top-ranked Stone Bridge, the last-minute addition of Sullivan simply served as a bonus.

Sullivan reciprocates this commitment, stopping by practices for foot drills before making the 30-mile, rush-hour trek from Lorton to Bethesda for club practice, where she often stays late for workouts. The Stanford recruit also maximizes every free moment, training in her garage or attending Washington Spirit games to further develop her uncanny poise with the ball and strong understanding of the game.

“Andi’s what we call a junkie because she always works so hard and always wants to play,” said Ellis Pierre, who coaches Sullivan’s Bethesda SC club team.

Basinger is often lauded for her motor and fitness. When opponents get tired, that’s when the Penn State recruit elevates her play, locking down strikers as a defender for her club team while thriving with 13 goals in her new attack role within Woodgrove’s offense.

“Brittany’s always had a tremendous work rate,” said Paul Ellis, who coaches Basinger’s FC Virginia club team. “She can move from box to box and cover 100 yards to where she’s always in a position to be dangerous,”

Both Basinger and Sullivan compete in the Elite Clubs National League, a high-level program created in 2009 that has further elevated the avenues for development in the D.C. area. Thanks to the depth of competition, strength of coaching and early exposure to technical training, the potential is there for players to realize international and professional success similar to that of local products Mia Hamm (Lake Braddock) and Ali Krieger (Forest Park).

“This area has so many young players who love the game, and they jump at all the local opportunities to develop themselves,” said Krieger, the 2003 All-Met Player of the Year who plays on the U.S. women’s national team and Washington Spirit.

For Basinger and Sullivan, Krieger is their Brandi Chastain. The defender’s decisive penalty kick in the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinals is etched in their soccer lore much like Chastain’s celebratory sports-bra pose is for those old enough to remember.

Reaching those heights is what pushes Basinger and Sullivan, who both earned a taste of it last fall at the U-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan. Although the team didn’t make it out of group stage play, the experience helped legitimize their tireless work and arduous schedule.

“I remember the first game. The streets and stadium were flooded with thousands of people to see us play,” recalled Sullivan, the youngest player on the squad. “When I ran out for warmups, it was like ‘We’re here. This is it.’ It was a life-changing moment that still motivates me now.”

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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