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Washougal’s Ellie Boon, starter for the U.S.A U14 National Team, proves that you don’t have to play for a big club, or be from a big city, to reach the world’s biggest stage

Catch her at certain times, and you might think that Ellie Boon is just like any other 14-year-old girl at Washougal (Wash.) High School — working on homework, hanging out with friends, going to movies … all part of the regular routine of the large majority of American teenage girls.

What is NOT routine, however, is what Boon can be found doing at other times — that is, pulling on the soccer jersey of the United States’ National Team and competing for a place at tournaments across the globe.

Truthfully, if you’re trying to catch Boon — a freshman at Washougal and a forward for both the high school and Columbia Timbers ’94 Red club team — you’re much better off looking on a soccer field than just about anywhere else.

This past summer, Boon was one of 100 girls invited to attend the US Youth Soccer Regional Camp, from which 36 would be selected to attend the U.S. Soccer Girls’ U14 National Camp in Carson, Calif., in July.

Boon, who made the conversion from recreational soccer to Premier and Olympic Development Program teams just four years ago, admits that she held no expectations whatsoever of being among the select group invited to Carson. In her previous Regional Camp experience, Boon had been one of the last “cuts” when National Camp invitees were announced. Rather than dwell on that negative result, however, Boon instead entered the regional camp with a goal simply to work hard and play her best, and let whatever happened, happen.

“[That regional camp experience] really taught me that you can fail and quit, or you can fail and strive to get better and push yourself because of it,” Boon says. “It really pushed me to get better.”

A few days after the camp, Boon received an e-mail from team administrators — that improvement had paid off. Boon was going to Carson.

“Opening the e-mail that said they wanted me to play for my country — I wasn’t expecting that in my craziest dreams!” she says when asked about the highlights of her playing career. “It’s been incredible.”

Boon played well at the National Camp and has since returned to Washougal, where, despite an early-season in injury, she led Washougal High School to the 2A district playoffs, scoring twice in the team’s 3-2 defeat to Black Hills on Nov. 4. She is also excelling for Columbia Timbers ’94 Red, and hopes to return to National Camp next summer with the goal of making the U15 National Team in 2010.

Despite her busy schedule, we caught up with Boon the day after Washougal’s tough loss to Black Hills to get her thoughts on her development to this point, her experiences in US Youth Soccer, and her advice to other young players who aspire to wear the red, white and blue.

How long have you been playing soccer? How did you first start?

Ellie: I have been playing soccer since the age of 5. My mom and dad signed me up with Camas Washougal Soccer Club just for fun. Making new friends was what kept me going at an early age.

At what point did you decide to pursue a higher level of competition, in the form of club and ODP teams? What was that transition like?

Ellie: By my U-10 year, I knew I had a passion for the game that was not seen in many girls my age. I enjoyed playing at the level I was at, though, and didn’t think of possibilities beyond where I was.

That changed one day when I was playing soccer with my team. We lost badly and the girls we were up against were really good. My mom told me after the game, though, that I played really well. A premier coach for a local club came up to my parents afterward and told me that I was good, and that he was coaching a premier team my age and he wanted me to try out. So, my parents sent me to the clinic a few weeks later, then to tryouts a few weeks after that. I ended up making the team, but not as a starter. Soon, I worked my butt off, earned a starting position and was thrilled.

The next year, my club coach suggested ODP to my parents. They were supportive of the idea, but didn’t expect me to make it because I would be trying out for the ‘94 age group, a year older than me. I don’t think I realized at the time how big of a deal ODP was because I wasn’t informed fully about what ODP is. When I made this team, I surprised everybody — including myself. Just like when I joined my premier team, the transition was hard because the speed of play and tackles were incredible.

What was your first experience at a National camp like? How different was it from your expectations?

Ellie: My first experience was not very good. We had a practice the night we arrived and I was caught off-guard. The speed of play was way faster than I had trained for and my touch was off from the plane ride. I felt like the odd one out, and a thousand times worse than everybody else. My expectations were never to dominate at National Camp, but as the week moved on my head started to come up, along with my play. Slowly, I gained confidence and in the end was proud to be average or slightly above.

Who have been some of your mentors in soccer and how have they helped you?

Ellie: I would have never made it this far if it would not have been for my awesome coaches. Scott Wheelon was one of the first ones to see my talent and made me the competitive player I am today. Brian Stewart taught me so many things in the one year I had with him. I miss him so much and wish he would come back to the U.S. to see me play today. Joey Fleming taught me how to read the game and be able to predict the game three passes ahead. Dave Ellis let me train with his boys’ team, which helped me speed up my game. Mac Wilson never gave up on me over the past year. He pushed me and expected more than anyone ever has before and showed me what hard tackling is all about. I look forward to working with Joey, Mac and Dave in the future.

What would you say has been the best moment of your soccer career to this point?

Ellie: I have a tie with my best moments in my soccer career. One of them is when I opened the e-mail that said they wanted me to play for my country — I wasn’t expecting that in my craziest dreams! The other is the dozen times I have put on that National Team jersey. You can’t help but think of all the people who have gotten you where you are and all the blood, sweat and tears you have put in the last couple of years.

How difficult is it to balance all of your travel for soccer with school, friends and other commitments?

Ellie: Balancing soccer, school and my social life is hard, but prioritizing my commitments helps me stress less in my down time. I’m very lucky to have great friends and family that support me and my decisions. I have missed my best friend’s birthday party two years in a row because of the same tournament my team plays in every year. My sister has spent multiple birthdays on the road, because I have a tournament. It’s hard for me, but in the end I know that my friends will forgive me and will love watching me hopefully play in the World Cup in a few years.

What do you like to do when you're not playing soccer?

Ellie: Not playing soccer? When do I not play soccer? O.K., well, I guess I eat, sleep, go to school, but other than that? I love hanging out with friends, watching movies and messing around with the soccer ball in my room.

How has playing in the Washington Youth Soccer system helped prepare you for the National Team?

Ellie: The Washington Youth Soccer system has helped me prepare for my National Team experiences by providing a chance to play soccer at an elite level. Playing for the Columbia Timbers ‘94 Red has allowed me to play against the best players in Washington State.

What are your future aspirations in soccer?

Ellie: My goals for the future include, first, to make the U15 National Team. Second, to make the U17 National Team and to play in the U17 World Cup. Third, to play for the University of Portland Pilots and, finally, to make the full Women’s National Team. Hopefully, I will be able to stay healthy so I can work towards these goals. I know I will find the support of my family and coaches invaluable along the way.

Who are some players or teams you admire, and what do you like about them?

Ellie: You have to admire the 1991 and 1999 Women’s National Teams that brought so much attention to the sport. I have a lot of respect for all the women before me who have paved this road and made my journey easier.

What would you say is your best quality or skill as a player?

Ellie: I feel my best qualities are a combination of speed and ball-handling skills. With these, I am able to beat people down the line to either send crosses in or have a shot.

As someone who has played at the National Team level for a while now, what advice would you give to another young player who was considering trying out for ODP or Regional teams?

Ellie: If somebody were going to try out for an ODP team, I would tell them to go for it. The soccer is some of the best you can find, and you get to meet a lot of new people. Just be prepared to work hard in team practices and also outside of practice, because when you are not out training, there is somebody, somewhere, that is, and they want your spot just as bad as you do.

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