Mia Hamm, Kristine Killy, Tisha Venturini Hoch to host soccer camp in Southern Pines

My story from the March 30 edition of the Fayetteville Observer…

Three weeks before the start of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, young players from across the Cape Fear region will get the chance to share the field with three former members of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini Hoch will be hosting the Team First Soccer Academy in Southern Pines on May 16-17 in conjunction with the Athletic Club of the Sandhills.

Hamm is a two-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, two-time World Cup winner, two-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time national champion at the University of North Carolina – as are Lilly and Venturini Hoch – and is a member of the World Soccer Hall of Fame.

Lilly is also a two-time World Cup and gold medal winner, and with 352 appearances for the national team, she is the most capped (games played) player in history, man or woman.

Venturini Hoch, in addition to winning a World Cup and a gold medal, won the 1994 Hermann Trophy as the top NCAA Division I player, and she scored the first goal in women’s Olympic soccer history in 1996.

Hamm said they consider camps such as the one in Southern Pines as their chance to pay it forward.

“We always feel so honored wherever we go,” Hamm said in a phone interview. “But to be able to come back home, so close to where we grew as people and players at UNC, it means a lot to us.”

“For us, it’s all about the kids in the area getting to have them on the same field,” AC Sandhills executive director Todd Abbey said. “You don’t get opportunities like that very often.”

And unlike some camps, where big name hosts drop by for the opening and closing events, campers will get the chance to learn up close from Hamm, Lilly and Venturini Hoch.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is that the four of us are really hands-on,” Hamm said. “We’re involved in every minute of every session. We kind of roam around and offer support and coaching. We’re constantly on the field to enhance and clarify the themes of the day.”

For Hamm, the chance to bring the camp to Southern Pines appealed to her small-town background.

“One of the things we love is to be able to go to places that aren’t necessarily hotbeds of soccer,” she said. “I’m from a small town. Kristine’s from a small town. Tisha’s from a small town. There’s talent in small towns, and we just want to be able to share our experiences with those players.”

The fact that the camp is close to Fort Bragg resonates with Hamm, who is the daughter of an Air Force colonel.

“For families in the military, sports can be a great icebreaker,” she said. “Moving around as much as we did, sports opened doors for me for new relationships. As I got older, it got harder to move. Sports were a great place to kind of get lost. I found a lot of comfort in sport, and especially soccer.”

There’s currently a gap in the camp schedule around the Women’s World Cup, and that’s not a coincidence.

“Kristine’s doing some stuff in Canada” for the World Cup, Hamm said. “To be a fan of the sport, you can learn by watching, boys and girls.”

The Americans haven’t won a World Cup since Hamm, Lilly and Venturini Hoch achieved that feat in 1999. Hamm is confident that this year’s squad can break the string of recent near-misses on the world stage.

“I think they can do it,” she said of the team’s title hopes. “It’s never easy, and I think the players understand that. They’ve got a great mix of veteran leadership and young players that I love. In the end, you just want to peak at the right time. They had a good result in Portugal (at a warm-up tournament), and I think they’ll build on that.”

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