Summer resident links Jamestown to London Olympics
These are exciting times for soccer star Tobin Heath, who last month not only celebrated her 24th birthday, but also got on a plane to Europe with her teammates on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. Yesterday the squad began their quest for a fourth Olympic medal.
“We carry with us a tradition of winning,” said Heath, who has been a summer resident of Jamestown her entire life. “Anytime we enter a tournament – especially the World Cup or Olympics – we have high expectations for ourselves.”
The downside is, those winning ways also make the U.S. team a target. “Everyone is always gunning for us,” she added.
The Americans go into the 2012 Olympics with lofty goals. Except for 2000, when they had to settle for silver in Sydney, the U.S. women have won the gold medal every time since 1996 when women’s soccer was introduced.
According to Heath, because women’s soccer is growing internationally and the quality of players is getting more impressive, there are a number of competitors to watch out for. When asked who might give the United States some trouble, there were a few teams that came to mind for Heath.
“A number of countries have become extremely competitive, especially Japan,” she said. “Sweden and Brazil are always competitive too.”
The United States began their quest yesterday against France, another dangerous team according to Heath. (The game was still in progress at press time.). The Americans also have scheduled games against Columbia on Saturday, July 28, and against North Korea on Tuesday, July 31. Both games start at noon locally.
Heath said she is preparing for the Olympics pretty much the same way she did for the World Cup last summer and the 2008 Olympics. The whole team is focused on training and performing “to the highest degree to get prepared,” she said. The main difference for her is the fact she was in college when she played in the 2008 Olympics.
“Now, I’m a full-time professional,” she said, “and it’s nice to just focus on the objective at hand this summer.”
Heath has family in town as well as friends who have followed her career. She is one of 11 players returning from the 2008 Olympic gold medal team.
“[Heath] is one of the USA’s most skillful players and dynamic dribblers,” said Aaron Heifetz, press officer for the U.S. women’s team.
At the Bejing Olympics, Heath was the youngest player on the roster. She came off the bench and played in three games. In the London Olympics, she will be one of the veterans, and she is already pumping up one team statistic. Heath is a New Jersey native. Half the players on the squad call the Garden State (4) or California (5) home.
Heath was born in Morristown, N.J., and now lives in Basking Ridge, N.J., where she grew up and learned to play soccer at the local clubs and at school. She played Division I soccer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An All-American, Heath was the Tar Heels’ star midfielder on a team that captured three NCAA championships. During her senior year, she scored five goals and had 10 assists as the Tar Heels racked up a 23-3-1 record and shut out the competition in both the national tournament semifinal and final rounds, winning both matches by the same score: 1-0.
Heath was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team, and she was first runner up for the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy, given to the top college player.
During her college career, the Tar Heels also won four conference championships in as many years. She finished her UNC career with 19 goals and 32 assists.
Heath, who was also an academic star, was drafted in 2010 by the Atlanta Beat, a professional women’s soccer team. She was the top draft pick and divided her time between the pro soccer team and the women’s national team. But she played only three games with the Beat, due to an ankle injury that ended her pro soccer season and sidelined her for most of 2010.
She underwent reconstructive ankle surgery in June 2010 and spent 5 1/2 months in rehab. She didn’t play any games for the national women’s team in 2010.
But she made a comeback in 2011. She started twice for the U.S. team, scoring one goal and tallying two assists.
Last summer, Heath played on the U.S. World Cup team, which lost in the finals to Japan. (Penalty kicks decided the outcome after the two sides were knotted 2-2 at the end of regulation.) Heath came off the bench and played in four matches, including the quarterfi- nals, the semifinals and the finals.
She also played pro soccer for the Sky Blue FC professional soccer club, based in Piscataway, N.J. The team belongs to the same league as the Beat, which traded Heath, who is now listed as a free agent.
Heath is one of six midfielders named to the team. The others midfi elders are Shannon Boxx, Lauren
Cheney, Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe.
Nicole Barnhart and Hope Solo are the goalkeepers. The forwards are Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Amy Rodriguez and Abby Wambach.
Rounding out the squad are six defenders: Rachel Buehler, Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts, Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone, and Becky Sauerbrunn. In addition, head coach Pia Sundhage named four replacement players: midfi elders Lori Lindsey and Meghan Klingenberg, forward Christen Press and goalkeeper Jill Loyden. Loyden and Lindsey are also veterans of the 2011 gold medal team.