Brought up by the Blues
Dana Hills grad has one last shot at winning nationals with childhood team.
BY GABRIEL RIZK ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Danielle Spriggs has been a member of the Southern California Blues soccer club for roughly half her life. The 2012 Dana Hills graduate is just a few days away from closing the book on her long Blues career with the hope that the highlight of her nine-year run with the San Juan Capistrano-based girls’ club is yet to come.
The squad is set to depart for the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships, which begin Monday and run through July 28 at Overland Park Soccer Complex in Overland Park, Kan., in what amounts to a last hurrah for Spriggs and the other players who have grown up together in the club.
“It’s something really special that you’ll never have a chance to do again in your life,” says Spriggs, who just finished her freshman year at Rice University. “There will never be another time in our life where we play with somebody for 10 years. College is a lot different because you’re playing with people that you’ve known for a week, and then you’re forced to all of a sudden know how they play. But club is really different, and I think everyone really loves playing together.”
The group’s ease and familiarity with each other was apparent from the time the group reconvened for its U19 run in late May. Thrown back together after being immersed in various playing styles at their respective colleges across the country, the team immediately caught fire in an undefeated run in the state cup. “I think we’ve played together for so long that it was really easy to kind of pick back up and get everyone’s chemistry again,” Spriggs said. “It took a little while, but (coach) Dido (Tshimanga) was really insistent on holding practices, which helped us a lot because it got us back into our rhythm.”
Winning state qualified the Blues for the 2013 United States Youth Soccer Far West Regional championship at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex in Honolulu, where they defeated Express of Hawaii, 2-0, on June 23 to advance to Nationals. “Going to Hawaii was pretty cool, and it was pretty fun, too,” Spriggs said. “It was awesome being able to win it and know that our club careers were going to be extended a little bit longer.”
While most of the current team has at least three or four years’ experience playing together, Spriggs, Megan Crosson, Jennifer Stanley, Ashley Doyle and Janae Cousineau comprise the core of the group that has been together since the U9 level. “This final year probably means the most to us who have been here for a really long time,” Crosson says. “We’ve wanted it for so long and never really got to the final goal.”
The team has been on the verge of a national championship twice with bids falling just short in 2009 and 2011. Their past experiences at nationals have left the Blues hungry for a title but have also made them more seasoned at the elite level and accustomed to the pressure and urgency of the moment.
“I think the experience helped tremendously at regionals,” says Tshimanga, who took over the team three years ago when it was at the U17 level. “Having been there and having known the pressure of it twice before, we will try to use that to our benefit. We’re probably more relaxed than the first year and even the last time in 2011 I think we were more tense. We didn’t expect to be at nationals. This time it looks like we’re going to seize the moment and just take it as it comes.”
Experience, depth and the strong team bonds forged over the course of a decade are all in the Blues’ favor as they strive for the perfect epilogue to youth legacies that are transitioning into college careers. By the end of this tournament, Spriggs might be leaving a part of her life behind, but she and the Blues will be leaving nothing on the table. “We’ve been to Nationals twice before,” she says, “so I think everyone is really hoping that we just win it this year finally.” “There will never be another time in our life where we play with somebody for 10 years,” says Danielle Spriggs.