Summer job: For the top players, playing a spring sport doesn't mean summer is free
by Brandon Miller
Jul 01, 2013 | 3616 views |  0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Virginia Poe, left, and Elizabeth Poe spend their summers playing club soccer to improve their game. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Virginia Poe, left, and Elizabeth Poe spend their summers playing club soccer to improve their game. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
When Jacksonville High midfielder Virginia Poe tried out for the Birmingham United Soccer Association club team four years ago, her aim was to improve her game for her high school team.

Having played soccer since she was 4, she had what she believed was a sub-par season for the Jacksonville varsity as a seventh-grader. That made her see the need to get better.

“I was tired of playing recreational soccer, and I wasn’t that good my seventh-grade year in high school. At first, that’s what it was, plus I’ve always wanted to play college soccer,” Poe said. “Then I started to realize it wasn’t really about getting better for high school — it was about your individual development and getting good enough to play college soccer.”

What Poe realized was the same thing that’s shaping the way young athletes spend summers and the offseason. Because competition levels have accelerated to such a high level for athletes such as Poe and other local standouts, doing well in a sport requires a serious time commitment.

Summer isn’t exactly for sunbathing any longer.

Poe, who is dedicated to two sports, faces even more demands on her time. While she is one of the leaders on the soccer team, the rising junior is also a dominant 3-point shooter for the Jacksonville girls basketball team.

Soccer with BUSA takes up a majority of her time during the summer and fall, while basketball controls the winter. Jacksonville High soccer takes command in the spring. To say the least, Poe stays busy all year.

“It’s pretty difficult, but I enjoy it,” she said. “I think it’s more difficult for my parents because they have to drive me everywhere. As much as I enjoy it, though, it’s a challenge, especially when you add all of my classes in school.”

In addition to playing for BUSA, Poe also began playing with the Elite Clubs National League 98 team in 2010. That team travels the Southeast playing other high-level club squads.

Poe is joined on that team by her sister, Elizabeth, and Oxford High goalkeeper Miranda Schoening, who was added to the roster last year.

While Schoening said BUSA has helped her technique and decision-making, the rising sophomore also tried out for and made a team in the Alabama Olympic Developmental Program.

“We have regional camps at Montevallo in July then, if we do well enough, we’ll move on and play other teams from other states,” Schoening said.

While the three Calhoun County stars continue to develop skills needed to play at the next level, 2013 Donoho graduate Peyton van Ekris dropped soccer while focusing solely on volleyball.

The outside hitter skipped her senior season of soccer as she began playing with the Alabama Junior Volleyball Club out of Birmingham. The decision came after she announced earlier this year she will play volleyball at Birmingham-Southern.

“I wouldn’t have had time to play soccer because of all the volleyball practices. I had three practices in Birmingham, so it wouldn’t have really been easy,” van Ekris said. “It was a little difficult to not be able to play because I’ve played since the program at Donoho started. But when I decided to play volleyball, I wanted to get ready for college.”

The developmental side of things, however, was the same.

Playing year-around kept van Ekris in shape.

In addition to playing for four club teams, van Ekris helped Donoho win two Class 1A state championships. It all helped her develop the tools to be a collegiate player.

“You’re focusing really just on that one sport, and it makes you really try to get better,” she said. “To play against higher competition makes all of us better not only physically but mentally, as well.

“If you’re playing it, then you obviously want to get better and go on to the next level. It pushes you to be better.”

But soccer and volleyball aren’t the only sports with a strong club presence. In fact, nearly every sport has some sort of developmental programs. Some are closer to Calhoun County than Birmingham, including Excel Baseball Academy in Oxford, which has hosted many of the county’s best baseball and softball players.

Oxford athletics director and 26-year boys basketball coach Larry Davidson has seen his share of players go through the AAU basketball league.

While he said players gain some benefit from playing in AAU, Davidson also has been a believer in players spending summers competing for their high school coach during prep play dates.

“I think the biggest impact it has is it gives players an opportunity to play and develop their skills year-round,” he said. “You’ve got to have skills if you’re going to be a high school player, and the only way you’re going to get the skills is to get in the gym. You want kids playing with good competition and the summertime is the best time to do that.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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