From Reston to Oxford, overseas move opens college opportunities for an American girl

Oxford United FC Center of Excellence Under-17 team - 2014

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Axtell was not excited when she found out she would be moving from Langley High and her Northern Virginia home to spend a year abroad. Her father, a Computer Science Professor at George Mason University, would be embarking on a year-long sabbatical at Oxford University in England, and that meant the family would be moving as well.

Lizzy would have to say goodbye to all of her friends, schoolmates, teammates and possibly any love-interests, a tough experience for any teenager no matter how temporary the move. Luckily, one thing she wouldn’t have to say goodbye to would be her love and passion for Soccer. And as she would soon find out, moving to the “Old Country” would give her a wealth of new experiences surrounding the sport she loves.

Shortly after arriving to Oxford, Lizzy got a trial with Oxford FC’s U-17 Girls Center of Excellence, the English FA’s initiative to propel the female game forward and make it more accessible to aspiring players at local and grassroots levels.

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During her trial, Lizzy caught the eye of Tim Roberts, who has coached the team for the past six years, and offered Lizzy a spot on the team. When asked about his impression of the American teenager during the trial, Roberts explained to SoccerWire.com via email, “Lizzie showed good quality when she trialed with us. She didn’t look out of place in our environment and fitted in with the girls that we have very well.”

She has fit in so well that she currently sits near the top of the goal-scoring chart across the league.

Her preparedness and technical skills were something that could be attributed to the quality coaching and development Lizzy received while playing the game back in the States. The Women’s game in the U.S. is known for it’s quality and preparation of it’s players for the highest level both domestically and internationally, something that was not lost on the coaching staff in Oxford. Lizzy was no exception. Her years of playing travel soccer in the hyper-competitive youth scene around Washington, DC, most recently with REAL Reston Force of the Washington Area Girls Soccer League (WAGS), had prepared her for the challenge of soccer abroad.

Lizzy has quickly settled into the Oxford team both on and off the field. Off the field, she credits the culture around the club as being instrumental and one of the most eye-opening parts of her overseas adventure.

One of the biggest differences Lizzy has noticed between playing youth soccer in the States versus the Center of Excellence (COE) at Oxford is the communal aspect of the team. For away games, the club provides a bus to transport the players to the match and if room is available they will even offer seats to any of the parents who are not able to drive themselves. This is a very different part of the game than in the U.S. where it is not uncommon to see 14 or 15 different cars pull up to games and the kids all meeting at the field. Lizzy remarked in an email conversation with SoccerWire.com Wednesday that riding the team bus to the game is “Pretty cool, and great for Team bonding”.

But it is more than just providing transportation and team bonding time for a bus load of teenage girls that has impressed Lizzy, it is the attention to details and professional level of focus the club provides to each of their players. A typical week for her team would be a gym session on Monday, followed by a class on physiology given by the team’s physiologist and then two field practices on Tuesday and Thursday, then a game on Saturday.
OxfordUnitedFCEach player is also given detailed written learning objectives to work on each week by the coaching staff as well as a detailed description of their performance during the previous weekend’s match as learning points. Lizzy mentioned that as a striker she has received objectives such as, “Forward decision to hold the ball up and lay it off, 1 touch with a secondary movement”

Big picture goals are not lost on the players at Oxford’s COE. Aside from the finer details of improving the player’s game individually and preparing them in a professional environment, the pathway to the Professional Ladies team is something that is clearly laid out for the girls from day one. They begin their training at the COE and hopefully progress up to the Ladies Development team and then on to the full Oxford United FC Ladies team, which were recently added to England’s Women’s Super League (WSL). Making it to that first team is a goal that Lizzy says most of the girls on the team share, though she knows her time in England has a hard stop next summer.

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Lizzy’s game on the field seems to be benefiting from her time at the club as well. She is currently ranked #4 in the league for total goals scored, bagging five in 10 appearances. Lizzy seems to be relishing the role of “Super Sub”, with most of her goals coming off substitute appearances.

Her goal-scoring prowess appears to be garnering attention from universities back home as well, with Lizzy saying that her phone has begun to ring from schools along the East Coast who may be interested in her services down the road. Interest that will only continue to grow as the striker keeps putting the ball in the back of the net at Oxford.

DSC_8718Lizzy is not the only one who has gotten an opportunity to experience a different method of youth soccer. Her father Rob, who spent seven years as a travel team manager back in the States, also noticed a more communal approach to the game from his perspective as both parent and team administrator.

Mr. Axtel explained also by email, that the club opens the team’s clubhouse to the parents both prior to and after the games for them to enjoy some food and drink together. The players’ uniforms are provided by the club and they even go so far as to have them washed and pressed, all at no cost to the parents.

Costs, or lack there-of, are something else that Axtell has taken note of as a parent. The only financial obligation the parents have is to buy a training kit for their kids, which run about £100. The coaching, transportation, facilities use, tournament entry fees, and uniform fees are all provided for by the club, a far cry from even the typical elite youth club in the U.S, where parents routinely spend thousands of dollars a year per season all told. A financial investment many parents endure for a chance that your child earns a coveted collegiate scholarship.

The Oxford United FC U-17 squad is roughly half-way through their season, and Lizzy is enjoying a very productive one so far. Although moving overseas may not have been in Lizzy’s plans, it may be the change that opens the door to collegiate opportunities for the Reston native in the end. Lizzy will be returning to Langley for her Senior year in the Fall and whether Lizzy receives that college scholarship offer or not, the way she views the game will never be the same. And that is, in itself, priceless.