USVI women's soccer gains experience


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ST. CROIX - A handful of dim park lamps provided just enough light for the three people remaining on Sion Farm soccer field Saturday evening.

As beer vendors packed up and two women's teams conversed over a post-game meal, St. Thomas native Chamoya Buchanan listened intently to instruction from Warren Wilson College assistant coach Lydia Vandenbergh and a visiting WWC supporter.

Chamoya, 13, had just played her first game with the USVI women's select team - a group of players hoping to represent the territory on the U-17, U-20 and senior teams in international competition. The team from a small four-year college in Asheville, N.C., beat the USVI, 5-3, to cap a three-game series and 10-day trip on St. Croix.

The wide-eyed, ever-grinning student from St. Thomas Seventh-day Adventist School was proof that the week's goals had been achieved. Players learned about a different culture, gained more experience on the pitch and gained confidence that they can play in college.

"You're never too small," said Buchanon, who is not much taller than five feet. "I liked how we worked together, and I didn't feel as nervous as I thought I would."

Buchanon was the youngest player on the field and was ready for more action after nightfall. Vandenbergh demonstrated proper technique for striking the ball, which was barely visible at that point.

Izler Browne took over as the USVI coach last year and played professionally with Enos in Asheville in the early 2000s.

"They got a clear sense of what is necessary at the next level, so they know like how much work is necessary without any false aspirations," Browne said. "It also helped in terms of some of the college-bound players, showcasing themselves to the coach."

"I think it was great for them to see that soccer can be this vehicle for more than just a game," said WWC coach Stacey Enos, a former U.S. national team player. "It's an academic, it's a cultural experience, it takes you to hometowns and across lines and it's just a wonderful thing.

"You travel, you get to get out, have broader experiences. So, I think it opened their eyes in that terms. I mean, they're pretty excited."

The week was an eye-opener for players on both teams. Senior goalkeeper Kendra Orians had never been off the U.S. mainland. Orians also snorkeled for the first time, but will cherish the memory of helping assist the USVI soccer program as much as anything.

"I'm really excited for all the girls here because they don't have a really structured program, and it's getting more structured as time goes on because of Izler," Orians said. "They got a lot of talent, especially young talent. I mean we were playing with 14-year-olds and 13-year-olds and they were kicking the ball around with us and showing some real skill."

Though the USVI program is focusing on building U-17 and U-20 rosters for 2014 World Cup qualifying, Browne asked older players to participate in the three games. St. Croix native Mackiesh Taylor, 22, graduated from Seton Hill University in December and hopes a senior national team may be formed in the coming years. She played with Seton Hill, a four-year school in Greensburg, Pa., and is eager to help the younger players in the V.I. get to play collegiate soccer.

"It's such a remarkable experience because as when we were growing up, it wasn't much older girls there helping us, and now you can actually give back and help the little kids," Taylor said.

Browne and Enos hope to continue the relationship, and WWC is eager to return if invited back. Buchanon will approve of that. The up-and-comer will gladly soak up more soccer instruction and listen to more stories of life on the mainland.

"They told me that America is pretty cool," she said. "Cause I've never touched snow, they said inside the house you have to have a heater and you have to wear like five jackets and then socks and then another pair of socks, so it was kind of funny. And they thought it was interesting that it's warm over here at Christmastime."

The USVI players are expecting to play in World Cup qualifiers later this year. For more information contact the USVI Soccer Association at 719-9707 or email usvisoccer@gmail.com.

- Contact Tim Chapman at 714-9102 or tchapman@dailynews.vi.

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