Portsmouth girl headed to U.S. Soccer National Championships

Mary Kate McGuire said it's always been her dream to play soccer on a national level. Mary Kate McGuire said it's always been her dream to play soccer on a national level.

Mary Kate McGuire juggles a ball outside her Portsmouth home Friday. She's leaving for Kansas Saturday to compete in the U.S. Soccer National Championships.

Mary Kate McGuire juggles a ball outside her Portsmouth home Friday. She’s leaving for Kansas Saturday to compete in the U.S. Soccer National Championships.

PORTSMOUTH — Displaying her soccer skills on the national stage has been a longtime dream for 13-year-old Mary Kate McGuire, who’s been dribbling a ball since she was 5.

“Since second grade I’ve always wanted to play on the national team where Alex Morgan is right now,” she said, referring to the National Women’s Soccer League forward and Olympic gold medalist. “And definitely the Olympics.”

Mary Kate has taken one step closer to making her dream come true, as she’s headed to Kansas tomorrow to compete in the U.S. Soccer National Championships. The daughter of Karen and Matt McGuire is one of 16 players on the New England Futbol Club (NEFC) Elite team for girls 13 and under. Players hail from several towns in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; Kerrie Larson of Bristol is also on the team.

Only four teams from around the nation were chosen to compete in Kansas, the culmination of a year-long competition consisting of more than 10,000 teams from U.S. Youth Soccer’s 55 state associations.

“I’m very excited for her. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be seen nationally. There are four regions in the country, and they won the regionals. It’s huge,” said Karen McGuire. “So you have Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, all the way down to Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and they won. They’re a new team from NEFC. They’ve never gone on to the nationals.”

Her daughter knows the competition — the finals for the round-robin tournament will be held Saturday, July 27 — will be fierce. “It’s California, Texas and Michigan. You always know California will have a good team, and Texas. And I’ve heard Michigan is one of the top teams, too,” said Mary Kate.

The team will play at Overland Park in Kansas. “They have turf fields that are actually air-conditioned from beneath. It’s a great facility for the event,” said Ms. McGuire.

Mary Kate’s coach, Kerry Baldwin, said it takes a major commitment for the girls to play at an elite level.

Mary Kate McGuire said it's always been her dream to play soccer on a national level.

Mary Kate McGuire said it’s always been her dream to play soccer on a national level.

“The girls train at least twice a week, and attend games on the weekend. Often, they travel up to an hour to get there, and an hour back. Some girls will bring their homework, or study during the ride,” she said.

Singled out at camp

It’s not the only honor bestowed on Mary Kate, who’s also a top scorer for Portsmouth Pirates as well as the Portsmouth Middle School soccer team, which won the state championship last year. (She also plays basketball for the middle school team and CYO. Ms. McGuire said her daughter has been fortunate to play with so many of her close friends and for such excellent coaches over the years.)

Mary Kate was one of 480 girls who recently participated in the Olympic Development Program camp at the University of Rhode Island. Upon the completion of five days of competition, Mary Kate was one of 110 girls chosen for the regional camp to be held in Buffalo, N.Y. in December. “That was her goal, just to make the regional camp,” said Ms. McGuire.

Then, the camp coaches announced the names of five girls taken into the national camp in Phoenix, Ariz. next February. “She was the first name,” said Mary Kate’s mom.

Finally, the coaches announced there was “one special player who showed us a lot at this camp,” said Ms. McGuire, noting that Mary Kate was a member of the U-13 team which beat the U-14 team in a game in which her daughter scored a goal. “They said, ‘We’re going to take this one player and put her up with the U-14 regional team and take her to this national competition in April to Costa Rica for nine days,” said Ms. McGuire. “She’s on the radar with the regional coaches, who were phenomenal.”

“That made me really happy,” added Mary Kate.

Household competition

Mary Kate’s not the only star athlete in the McGuire home. Benjamin, 16, and Timothy, 11, both excel at baseball, while Mollyanna, 6, is already playing tennis and soccer. Timothy, in fact, is a top slugger for Portsmouth 10-year-old Majors Little League All-Star team, which is competing Saturday in the state championships in Warwick.

“The sad part is that with me taking her to Kansas, I’ll miss the states to see Tim play,” said Ms. McGuire.

And yes, there is a little friendly competition among the siblings.

“My dad is always messing with us,” said Mary Kate, whose father is an assistant baseball coach at Portsmouth High School. “We have competitions between me and Timmy. When he hits a home run, my dad will say, ‘Oh, Timmy’s back in the No. 1 spot. And he throws Ben in there, too.”

With additional reporting by Christine O’Connor.

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