By Adam Miller, Duke Sports Information
DURHAM, N.C. - Duke University women's soccer sophomores Natasha Anasi and Laura Weinberg recently returned from a week-long camp, training with the United States' U-23 National Team Jan. 15-22 in Sarasota, Fla. Sophomore Kaitlyn Kerr was also invited to the camp, but was unable to attend following offseason surgery.
"The experience, overall, was amazing," said Anasi. "I think the best part about it all was just that there was so many girls that were college seniors or had played their first year in the WPS. It was just nice to see how you stack up against those players because the ultimate goal is to get to that point."
Selection to the U-23 team is considered a great honor by many players. The group is just one level below the U.S. Women's National Team that will be competing in London this summer at the 2012 Olympic games.
"Coach [Randy] Waldrum kind of emphasized that throughout the entire camp," said Weinberg about training with the team. "He was linking our team [U-23] to the full team - it's kind of like a trickle-down effect. The next generation on the world stage, are coming from the U-23 team, and if there's injuries or a last-minute decision that someone cannot go to the Olympics or wherever, they're looking at our team. He really focused on the fact that we are so close to being there."
Anasi also relished her time at the camp.
"You always think about it as a youth player that 'Oh maybe one day,' but to actually have that, and have it be so close and tangible, was very exciting and it was an honor," said Anasi. "To be chosen for the camp was just really something that I've looked forward to."
Among just 24 players attending the camp, Anasi and Weinberg were the only college sophomores.
"We were the youngest," commented Weinberg. "A lot of these girls are one or two years out of college, and some of them just got drafted to the WPS. You just see what the next level is. You can just tell they're [the other players] a little bit more experienced - that tiny bit - but that's what separates college from professional. It was really good to see the next level because that's where I want to be, hopefully."
Weinberg also made a position change while training with the team. Well-known for her fancy footwork and scoring abilities, the Boca Raton, Fla. native saw significant time playing as an outside defender.
"They put me at outside back and basically just said: 'Use your speed, and just get forward. It's the same thing as playing forward, except you have to defend a little bit more,'" said Weinberg.
Fortunately for Weinberg, she had a very familiar face playing beside her. Anasi, the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, was stationed in her regular spot at the center of the defensive line.
"When I was playing outside back, we played right next to each other," added Weinberg. "The one thing she's really good at is communication. In the beginning, I just said: 'Tash, talk to me. I'll listen to you, just talk to me; tell me what to do,' so she was a really good person to have there. She's really good at communicating [and] holding the back line together as a unit, so I pretty much just listened to her, and that really helped me."
Although Weinberg was learning a new position, Anasi also obtained new knowledge and experience throughout the week.
"I feel like there's times that you can get away with just being okay, but at a camp like this, you have to really make sure that you're exceptional every single time you step onto the field," Anasi stated.
The two Blue Devils will bring their newly-acquired understanding of the game, as well as the experience that the camp offered, to spring practice at Duke, which has already begun for many of the players. Anasi already knows what she wants to work on with her teammates during the offseason.
"This year, I felt like I was communicating a ton, but I feel like I'm going to have to take that up a notch, and really pay more attention to how to communicate to certain players because there's a different kind of communication that you can use," Anasi said. "Just making sure there's intensity in every single practice because these practices that we had took a lot out of you, physically, and I think if we do that day-in and day-out, that will make us a whole different team."