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Mooney’s Vazquez shows soccer skills in Sochi

Published: 3/24/14 @ 12:00


By Ryan Buck

rbuck@vindy.com

The Winter Olympic flame was extinguished weeks ago, leaving its host city Sochi with $6 billion of sporting infrastructure and the surrounding hills and valleys between the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains with perhaps $45 billion more in incredible roadways, rail lines and the facilities that support them.

What is to become of the formerly quiet beach retreat now that Russia’s 14 days in the sun have passed? Like many places that mobilize to host one of the grandest stages in sport, who is going to utilize the brilliant new athlete amusement park once the Olympians, coaches and staff, fans and dignitaries have left town?

Youngstown native and Cardinal Mooney soccer player Julie Vazquez will, for one.

Vazquez, a high school junior, is playing in Sochi as a member of the Region One Olympic Development Program to represent the United States at the FIFA Kuban Spring 2014 soccer tournament.

Vazquez’s ODP team, a U-17 group, is competing against the likes of host Russia’s U-19 national team, the Iranian national team, and teams from the Krasnodar region, Romania, Turkey, Israel, Slovakia, Estonia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine.

The 12 teams were split into three groups, which will be whittled down to quarterfinal and semifinal rounds before a champion is decided March 30.

“I’m very excited,” said Vazquez, who is already committed to play soccer at the University of Pittsburgh. “Nerves always play into it, but once I’m on the field I’ll be OK.”

Unlike most of her more experienced teammates, Vazquez, who was selected last year, is making her first trip overseas. She was named to the Ohio North ODP team from 2010-2012 and earned her sport on the Region One roster after a strong showing with the Pennsylvania West team.

“A lot of the girls have been on international trips before and it’s my first time,” said Vazquez, who says she will be almost as much a tourist in a new land as she will be a competitor. “Once I’m able to reel in that intimidation, I’ll pull it into positive energy on the field.”

Year-round training and a passion for the game, which began at a young age when she and her family lived in Florida, are part of her lifestyle.

As she watched her older brother, Boo (a standout baseball player for Mooney who is now a sophomore playing at Pitt) excel on the diamond, she focused on soccer.

“I wanted something that was my own,” she said. “Soccer was it. I fell in love with it.”

Strong performances on the ODP teams, which select only 72 girls in every age group, have propelled players to the U.S. Women’s National Team.

“That’s ultimately my dream,” she said, “to be on the national team and play in an Olympics or World Cup.

“Hopefully that will happen to me.”

Before she could take the fields of Sochi, which normally host the Russian national teams, another obstacle awaited, however.

It wasn’t the ongoing geopolitical turmoil stemming from Russia’s apparent siege of the autonomous Ukrainian republic of Crimea. Coaches and FIFA officials have eased any doubts about potential cancellations.

It was more of the cute and cuddly variety.

For last season’s District III Player of the Year and All-Ohio selection to ignore Sochi’s stray dogs that became so famous in the media coverage leading up to the Olympics is the challenge.

“My mom and I were just talking about that!” Vazquez said. “I’m nervous about that. I’m probably going to want to take them all home with me.”

If Vazquez gets her wish, a new pet might be traveling alongside a new trophy.