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Ventura County Star (California)
The dream season for the Moorpark High girls soccer team this winter included a sterling 26-1-2 record, the program's first Southern Section title as the Division 2 winner and the title in the prestigious CIF-State SoCal Division II Regionals.
For that ballyhooed showdown in the Southern California final vs. San Diego-San Marcos, the Musketeers packed 2,700 fans into the home stands.
Moorpark High athletic director Rob Dearborn fears that might become the program's high-water mark.
"It's going to be hard to do anything like that again," he says.
The talent isn't drying up in the region, but it no longer may be committed to playing for the area's high school teams.
Beginning next fall, the top players around Ventura County, Southern California and, indeed, throughout the United States will have another enticing option.
U.S. Soccer, which oversees the national programs for USA Soccer, will launch its inaugural Girls Development Academy Program beginning in the fall of 2018. The academy is projected to feature 70 clubs across seven national regions that compete in three age group levels - under 14-15, under 16-17 and under 18-19.
According to U.S. Soccer, the program "will focus on positively impacting the everyday club environments to assist in maximizing female youth player development across the country."
It's an intriguing venture with a patriotic twist: How can you pass up the opportunity to train and play and thrive in a high-level program and, maybe, one day compete for your country?
There is a caveat attached: Players who are chosen for the program's elite teams will play exclusively within the academy and will not be allowed to participate with their high school teams.
"It's going to affect us a big way," predicts Dearborn. "We'll probably lose at least four to five players."
Westlake girls coach Frank Marino, whose teams are traditional top-flight Marmonte League and CIF-SS contenders, echoes that sentiment.
"You mean the program that's going to ruin girls high school soccer?" he said. Actually, the Warriors coach hopes it doesn't come to that. But he does believe that dramatic change is coming.
"If you are a top player, you really have no other option but to play for the Academy," he said. "It's going to attract all or most of the top players across Southern California, and it's going to change the level at which high school soccer in the CIF Southern Section is played.
"What it will do is open up opportunities for other players to step up and play for their high school teams. A new level and class of players will get a chance to play at this level."
U.S. Soccer launched an identical program for boys in 2007. Today that program consists of 152 clubs featuring five age groups.
"I think this (girls program) matches exactly what the guys have done," said Marino. "For the girls, the high school experience is a little different than it is for the boys. The girls enjoy high school soccer as a social event and a chance to play with their friends. I think it's sad that they will miss that."
Marino estimates the Warriors will lose a "handful" of players. USA soccer also plans to launch a second tier of club teams below the "A" level. Those players will be permitted to join their high school teams.
"We may have a mixed bag next year," said Marino. "We'll lose the top players, but the ones at the second level will have the opportunity to continue playing in high school."
A decade ago, the initial venture attracted scads of boys soccer players within the CIF-Southern Section, including more than a few from Ventura County.
Through the years, less and less top players signed up for academy soccer and more and more opted for their high school teams. Many realized their dreams of playing for team USA was still a long shot. Others simply missed the high school experience.
So what happens with the girls? Ventura County has become a prime locale for talented soccer players. Stellar programs such as Westlake, Newbury Park, Grace Brethren, Oxnard, Pacifica and, yes, Moorpark could be affected as athletes make their choices.
Miriam Hickey, the newly appointed Director of U.S. Soccer Development Academy, said the program aims to raise its players to be world-beaters. Literally.
"The academy will raise the standards and assure that the pathway for the most talented and dedicated female players exists and that we will be able to continue to compete with the elite players and teams in the world," Hickey said.
Loren Ledin is the Prep Editor for The Star. He can be reached at 805-437-0285 or at [email protected]