TEMPE, Ariz. — Former Arizona State women’s soccer coach Terri Patraw made just one NCAA Tournament in her five seasons in Tempe (1996-2000). Aside from the obstacles of starting a Division I program, her greatest hurdle was a lack of local talent to buoy the program.
Fifteen years after her departure, that is no longer a problem.
Thirteen of ASU’s 31 players (42 percent) are from the Phoenix area and six of the eight incoming freshman make the same claim. Valley soccer is growing up, and there are multiple reasons for that growth.
The Valley’s population explosion is the most obvious factor. In 2000 — Patraw’s last year at ASU — the greater metropolitan population of Phoenix was about 3.28 million. In 2015, the estimated population is higher than 4.5 million.
More kids equal more potential players and more adults equal more potential coaches and directors.
“And we have great weather 75 to 80 percent of the year so there’s more time to practice and develop players,” Arizona State senior McKenzie Berryhill said.
In Patraw’s day, Sereno Soccer Club dominated the local scene, winning national tournaments and boasting a level of prestige and players far beyond the other clubs. After a period of over-expansion, the Valley is approaching a sweet spot of five major clubs producing women’s talent in Sereno, SC del Sol, AZ Arsenal, San Tan Soccer Club and the Scottsdale Blackhawks.
“I think the club soccer programs have improved across the board,” said ASU coach Kevin Boyd, whose team has been to four NCAA Tournaments in the last six years. “We’ve seen somewhat of a consolidation of the clubs and there probably needs to be more, but there are more players in each club and that normally results in the cream of the crop rising.
“Not only is the coaching better at that level, but they are finding better players and the clubs are doing a better job of hiring excellent directors that have come in from all over the place and helped develop players.”
While editor Travis Clark cautioned that the numbers may not be entirely accurate, his website, topdrawersoccer.com, lists 31 division I recruits from Arizona in 2015. That ranks 14th in the nation.
Scottsdale’s Jorian Baucom was the SEC’s 2014 freshman of the year at LSU, Gilbert’s Ashley Hatch was an All-American at BYU, Gilbert’s Jordan Day was the goalkeeper for Texas A&M’s final four team and Cave Creek’s Cassie Miller won a national title as Florida State’s goalkeeper.
The success of the U.S. Women’s National team hasn’t hurt either. Two members of that team that won the World Cup in July have Arizona ties. Julie Johnston was born in Mesa and played for both Arsenal and Sereno. Sydney Leroux was born in Canada but moved to Scottsdale at age 15 for better coaching and playing opportunities. She played for Horizon High School and Sereno.
AZ Arsenal coach Matt Smith said the construction of the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix has also provided a top-notch facility to host national events, tournaments and camps.
“It used to be that college coaches only came here periodically. Now they’re here for ODP (Olympic Development Program) events multiple times a year,” Smith said. “When you start to see college coaches four to five times a year, it means more exposure for Arizona kids and the state as a whole.
“Add to that there are so many more people involved in the game who grew up with the game here. More and more younger players are coming back and coaching and when they start coaching, they coach the younger ages so you’ve got this incredible improvement in development from the time kids start playing.”
Boyd doesn’t envision a day when Arizona State’s roster can consist solely of Arizona-born players.
“I think the only place where that can happen is California because they have so many players, but I also think it’s healthy for a program to have players form other states,” he said. “I’ve been hoping to have at least half of the team be from this state and we’re closing that gap. When we get there, I’ll be happy.”
Landing top local talent such as Farquharson and Berryhill is helping his recruiting efforts, Boyd said, adding that the six incoming Arizona-born freshman were part of the deepest Division I-caliber prep class he can remember in the state.
“When I first got here, we couldn’t get the top players. Believe me, I tried as hard as I could to get Julie Johnston and we tried to get Cassie Miller and quite a few others I could name but they felt their best shot at top-end soccer was somewhere else,” he said. “When we got Cali and (McKenzie) is when we broke that belief. They both succeeded and now players see they can come here, be successful and play in front of their parents and friends and everybody in this community.”