All-Star games a chance to shine
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
In 2007, when Ashley Medcalf took the soccer field with of some of the best talent Hawai'i had to offer, it was considered just another chance to have some fun.
"I was just thinking it was going to be a nice, fun game, and I wanted to win, but have fun," Medcalf said. "I didn't expect anything serious out of it."
Instead Medcalf, now a junior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., walked away with an offer for a recruiting trip, which turned into a scholarship.
Tomorrow, 56 high school soccer players, boys and girls, will take the field for the Hawai'i Youth Soccer Association's Senior All-Star Games at Kamehameha's Kūnuiākea Stadium.
It's a chance for the players to be seen by dozens of college coaches.
"After the game, I went to talk to my parents, and a coach came up to me and said, 'I thought you played a really good game and I wanted to know if you're committed to a school yet for college?' " Medcalf said.
The coach introduced himself as Glenn Crooks of Rutgers, and asked Medcalf if she would be interested in coming up for a recruiting visit.
At the time, Medcalf was mulling over offers from other Division I schools, but she took a trip to central New Jersey and eventually committed to Rutgers.
"I think the game provides a lot of opportunities," Medcalf said. "They (coaches) just happened to watch me play in this one game, and it changed everything."
Players for the invitation-only all-star game were nominated by their Hawai'i Youth Soccer Association club coaches, and must have participated in HYSA's Olympic Development Program, a nationwide clinic set up to find the state's, region's and country's best players, at least once in their youth careers. That means that several big-name high school soccer players are not playing tomorrow, although there will be no shortage of outstanding soccer.
Other high school sports, such as football, baseball, softball and girls basketball, run all-star games at the conclusion of their seasons. HYSA's game is special in that it is run in conjunction with HYSA's ODP, meaning college coaches in town to instruct at the clinic may be in attendance for the game.
Coaches from Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, UC Irvine, Whitworth, Hawai'i-Hilo, Fresno State and Sacramento State — programs that at one time or another featured a player from Hawai'i — are in Honolulu for the ODP camp.
"I have a lot of boys asking, 'Who is coming? Who is coming?' " said Lei Amoroso, who is helping to organize the all-star game and whose son, Joshua, is playing in the game.
She has the players filling out questionnaires about their careers and "a lot of them don't want to fill out if they are committed (to schools) on their player profiles. A lot of them have responses, but they don't want to put it down. Because they want to see what they can get from here."
The chance for a college scholarship is something most parents and children covet, especially in these tough economic times. The desire is strong enough that they spend thousands of dollars on camps and tournaments in the hopes that they will be seen and in turn rewarded with a scholarship.
"It's so hard, financially," Lei Amoroso said. "I know a lot of them are really counting on it. I think that's why a lot of them are holding out, waiting to see who is coming here.
"This is awesome, because in Hawai'i the kids don't have this kind of opportunity, where on the Mainland they see college coaches frequently. Hawai'i is so limited."
Hawai'i soccer players usually have to travel to the Mainland for tournaments with their club teams for a chance to be seen and scouted. Most playing tomorrow have made the rounds, playing in some of the most prestigious club tournaments on the Mainland.
Seabury Hall's Jacob Sandoval is leaning toward playing for Point Loma Nazarene in Arcadia, Calif. But, he said, he's leaving his options open, saying that if he were to get offers out of the game, "then I'll take it from there."
The game provides the Maui native a chance to compare himself to players from around the state, which he rarely gets to do.
"It's really nice, because you get to see all the potential around the Islands, and all the coaches get to see we can play just as well as the Mainland players, if not better," Sandoval said. "I just want to play with the best in Hawai'i."
Former U.S. National Team member Marcelo Balboa is coaching one squad each on the girls and boys sides, along with Manni Klar, an assistant coach for the boys-under-14 National team.
"The first year we were very surprised about how good the girls and boys are," said Balboa, a National Soccer Hall of Fame member who is in his third year as a coach of the all-star game. "We were so impressed about the skill level and how the clubs have worked with the teams here. You can see every year, the teams are competitive."
He that said by the time most players are seniors, "most of (the college coaches) have done their homework (when the players) are freshmen, sophomores, juniors. (Coaches will) ask us to play them in certain positions. They've already scouted them, so they'll talk to us and we'll play them in certain positions (the coaches) want to see them play in.
"We try to help them out, but we try to put the kids in positions they are most comfortable in, because they'll show better."
HAWAI'I YOUTH SOCCER ASSOCIATION SENIOR ALL-STAR GAMES
Tomorrow at Kamehameha Schools' Kūnuiākea Stadium. The girls' game is at 5:30 p.m. and the boys will follow at 7:30.
Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for students under 18 with valid student ID. Children under 5 admitted free.