World class: Summer resident Tobin Heath shines for the World Cup team
“I have traveled all over the world and I can honestly say that Jamestown is my favorite place,” said Heath, 23. “It’s a place where family is, which is a huge part of my life.”
Indeed, there have been members of the Heath clan in Jamestown on both a part-time and full-time basis going back several generations.
Heath, or Tobs to family and friends, said that Jamestown has contributed to her soccer success because it has “been the place where I can go to rewind and to reflect on the things that I have accomplished and still want to accomplish.”
One of her most recent accomplishments was her selection to USA’s World Cup team. A lifelong soccer phenomenon, U.S. Soccer describes Heath as “one of the USA’s most crafty dribblers” and “perhaps USA’s most skillful player.” The team’s second youngest player, she has been nurtured by the national team since she was 13.
Heath was an essential player and leader on a University of North Carolina team that won three NCAA Division-I championships and four straight ACC titles over a fouryear period. She was drafted first overall in 2010 by the Atlanta Beat of the Women’s Professional Soccer league where she played while balancing her commitment to the national team. (She has since been traded to Sky Blue FC.)
It appeared to be a straight road to the World Cup, but roads have bumps. Unfortunately for Heath, she hit one.
The bright lights of her World Cup prospects flickered, as she faced recovery and rehabilitation from ankle reconstruction surgery in June 2010, following a season-ending injury playing for the Beat.
Heath said that she knew that there was a “limited window to make the team so obviously my rehab and preparation was pretty serious and on a very tight deadline.”
She added, “When I was released to finally be able to play and train with the national team my focus was on making that World Cup roster.”
Following surgery – and five and a half months of rigorous rehab – Heath returned to the national team training facility in January.
By the time roster announcements came around in May, Heath had used the intervening four months to prove to coaches that she was worthy of one of the 21 roster spots on the World Cup team.
Heath reflected on the ups and downs of rehabilitation. “Like any injury you always have your setbacks and those days when you feel like you’ll never be back to where you are but that patience and trust in the plan and in your goals and the persistence to keep working and keep believing that you’ll get back there,” she said.
Guided by the national team doctors, Heath said that her rehabilitation was “completely successful.”
Heath was selected to the USA roster in May, object evidence of her full recovery. She described with zest the subsequent World Cup experience.
“The whole experience was remarkable for many reasons,” she said. “The atmosphere created by Germany (where the World Cup was played from June 26 to July 17) was extraordinary for any women’s sporting event and when we continued to make our run the support that we received from back home was tremendous.”
She recounted memorable highlights. “The first game and feeling the energy in that first stadium, beginning the journey – that’s pretty unforgettable.”
She also mentioned the game against Brazil on July 10 that the United States won on penalty kicks. “The Brazil match, which was an epic game in any sporting event, was emotionally such a high.”
Of course she named the World Cup Finals against Japan that was held on July 17: “The final match was for sure something that we will never forget.”
Heath described the tough loss to Japan in the finals. “First off, you have to applaud Japan. Just a tremendous story and a tremendous fight,” she said. Japan beat the U.S. on penalty kicks after the two teams couldn’t break a 2-2 tie in extra time. “It is obviously a tough loss for us to swallow. We played one of our best games in the tournament and unfortunately every time we scored, they just had an answer to it.”
The U.S. team beat Japan 2-0 both times they squared off in the May series, which are warm-up matches held prior to the World Cup.
“The team that we played in the warm-up games was completely transformed,” Heath said. “[They were] having the tournament of their lives and playing in spectacular fashion. They played at a level that should be acknowledged and admired.”
Heath continued: “They captured a huge audience [through] their determination and fight and style.”
She characterized Japan’s style of play as “extremely possession oriented: it’s patient and it’s technical. Not only could they play on the ball and with the ball, but they could put it in the back of the net. They fought with all of their heart and with their country behind them – we applaud them for that.”
Heath’s road to the World Cup has been a long one and she expressed her gratitude for what the game has given her along the way.
A midfielder from the beginning, Heath credited the quality of community and club soccer in New Jersey, where she grew up, for her solid start. “I was given all of the opportunities growing up to play for all of the best teams and the best coaches which really opened up doors for me.”
A highly decorated athlete at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, N.J., Heath was the Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior in 2005. Her modest manner belies her world-class status which is revealed in detail on the U.S. Soccer website.
She earned All-American honors in both her sophomore and junior years and was chosen as the Newark Star Ledger Athlete of the Year in 2005. As a three-year varsity starter, Heath led the Red Devils to the state championship. She opted out of playing in her senior year, she said, and decided to “to train with boys” in preparation to make the U-20 national team. She successfully competed on the U.S. team that placed fourth overall in the world championship that year.
Heath described her decision to commit to North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a high school junior, an “easy decision” given the quality and prestige of the women’s program. Six years and three national championships later, Heath – who earned All-American, All-ACC and all-academic honors in her collegiate career – is wrapping up her studies that have been extended due to an extensive travel schedule for the national team.
Heath pointed out that the World Cup is not the culmination of her career. She is looking beyond the team’s success at the World Cup and onto the 2012 Olympics in London. Heath is already getting ready: “I will continue my preparations and be the best player that I can be.”
It won’t be her first rodeo: Heath was the youngest player on the 2008 Olympic team, contributing off the bench and helping the team take home the gold medal.