The new soccer season may not begin until next fall but that is not stopping some of Zionsville’s new talent from getting some work done on a national stage.
Incoming freshmen Derek Barrett, Colin Beebe, Kyle Bensen, Alexander Guckien and Jake Watkins were all added to the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Pool Team earlier this month. They joined a total of 30 players from the state of Indiana to travel and play soccer across the United States.
The program allows the freshmen an opportunity to play side by side and to work together for the first time. And according to Watkins, they’ve already developed a sort of bond, which should pay dividends for their high school years.
“We are learning what our individual strengths are and how best to play together,” Watkins said. “If we keep working hard, we should be a very tough team to beat when we are older.”
The development program has been around since 1977 to find players in specific age groups to form a national team for international competition. While the main goal is to put together a national team, it also provides high-level training to enhance player development.
Teams are formed to participate in international tournaments as well as regional and national championships. The program also has developed players who are now, or were, members of major league soccer.
Each state holds try-outs every year by state association coaches who are recognized for their ability to train players and find talent.
“The coaches push us to be our best and you have to play at a high level to be successful,” Watkins said.
One of Watkins’ coaches, Theron Smith, knows Watkins is a scorer, but has focused on his defensive ability. Watkins knows, however, it will help him become a better overall player.
“Usually coaches want me to score, but coach Smith was Indy Burn Coach of the Year twice, so, I trust his judgment,” Watkins said. “I play whatever role the coach needs me to for my team.”
The prospect of having five players from Zionsville all in the program surely excites another coach, Zionsville Community High School’s head soccer coach Rob Jordan.
“I am extremely thrilled with the talent and dedication of the incoming freshman class as they will be a great addition to the Zionsville boys soccer team,” Jordan said.
Jordandoes have some familiarity with the players. He had the chance to see them in action from club games and open gym sessions at the high school.
“They are all very good and dedicated players as indicated in their selection,” Jordan said. “This will be a great opportunity for them to train against some of the best players in their age group and be trained by the ODP staff.”
The open gym sessions also gave the incoming freshmen a chance to play with the high school team. As Watkins found out, the upperclassmen are bigger and stronger than normal competitors.
But when summer ends, Watkins hopes he’s better suited for the tougher competition.
“It was a great experience,” Watkins said. “I know I will have to make quick decisions with the ball if I am going to have a chance to contribute.
“I hope some of the skills I am picking up will help prepare me.”