By Roger Gonzalez
The U-17 Richmond Kickers Elite team is beyond stacked. It’s absolutely loaded with talent, and it’s all on display at WAGS Rael Vodicka Memorial Tournament. Coached by Rob Ukrop, the 2011 State Cup quarterfinal squad has a national pool player committed to Tennessee in star Katherine Cousins, two players headed to the University of Richmond in Lindsey Williams and Emily Drummond, a talented defender on her way to NC State in Payton Cook, and players headed to William and Mary and Virginia Tech.
“The core of it has been together since they were U-9,” Ukrop said. “I am most proud of how they handle themselves off the field. They play hard, play fair. I think it’s a team that everyone loves to be a part of…It’s a nice group of kids.”
The girls that have committed are all juniors, aside from Cousins, who plays up an age group and is a sophomore. With the recruiting process out of the way for many, they hope that it allows other girls to focus and improve.
“We are here working for our girls, who are also trying to get committed,” Cook said. “When you are already committed, you need to learn how to keep up your work ethic. [Alani Johnson] and I are ACC, [Cousins] is SEC, you’ve got to be ready. It’s not time to stop now.”
The girls dream about what college soccer and hope to see their teammates also land at big-time programs. The girls often wonder what it will be like and talk about potentially facing each other. Johnson, an athletic attacker who will be playing for the Hokies, will have to go up against Cook in ACC battles. Cook is ready.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “It will be exciting.”
Cousins, a sophomore who has received plenty of national attention for her skills, hopes to face her current teammates at some point. She has learned plenty from them and credited them for her constant improvement.
“It’s just better competition,” Cousins said. “Just playing and pick out stuff to work out, spending more time with the team, it’s just fun.”
All three are excited for the college game, what they have already accomplished, but they each know they must improve to be real impact players at the next level. Johnson, who hopes to contribute right away with a rising program in Blacksburg, Va., can’t wait.
“Whenever I was looking at schools, they were far away,” she said. “Tech was closer to home. My dad is a big Hokie fan. That is not what made me pick there, but I just really like the atmosphere and the location of Tech.”
All have taken a big weight off their back by committing early, something that seems to take place more now than ever, with girls even younger pledging to collegiate programs. Each girl talked about playing with less nerves, simply living their lives now with more tranquility knowing where they will be going. With college already decided, none of them second-guessing their pledges, there is one thing left to do.
Cook put it simply.
“Now you just play,” she said.
According to Ukrop, they do a nice job of it. It’s not hard to notice.
“They hold each other accountable so well,” he said. “It has certainly made my life a lot easier. They handled the whole process really well. They felt comfortable with the coaches and the programs…They have improved their work-rate. They want to get the best out of each other. That is why it is such a special group.”