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Let's Hear It For The Boys

U.S. U-17 midfielder Kate Bennett stepped out of her comfort zone and into a unique training environment. And she’s really glad she did.

Kate Bennett sat at the wheel of her silver Toyota Prius on the way to the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington, and had a conflicted internal conversation.

“It’s not too late, I can turn around. Do I want to do this? Yes I do. No, I’ll just go home.”

Bennett was on her way to train with the Crossfire Premier U-18 boys, one of the top teams in the Northwest Division of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy West Conference.

Bennett, who plays for the Crossfire U-17 girls’ team, was prompted to practice with the boys by her club coaches Dick McCormick and Peter Hattrup who thought it would be excellent preparation as she entered the final training camps before the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

As she neared the facility, Bennett overcame her trepidation and continued on to practice.

“It was really awkward at first,” she admitted. “I just put on my cleats and waited for someone to tell me what do. They boys were looking at me funny. I could tell they were saying in their groups of conversation, ‘what the heck is she doing here?’”

Soccer is a game that can transcend age, gender and even teenage angst. And as Bennett is a brave kid, an achiever and a fierce competitor, she laced’em up, strapped on her guards and jumped in cleats first.

“I got my butt kicked,” she said. “They were really, really good. But they were really nice to me and they passed me the ball, sometimes.”

Bennett trained with the team five or six times before the World Cup. She even started looking forward to it because she knew it was helping her game. And heck, it was a lot of fun.

That’s not to say there weren’t some slick dribbles that left her tackling air and maybe even a nutmeg or two from the guys.

“I didn’t want them to treat me differently,” said Bennett. “But sometimes they’d come to win a ball and wouldn’t see it was me and go full out and run me over. They’d say ‘oh, sorry, sorry!’ but I was fine with it. I wanted them to go full out.”

In the end, the experience reaffirmed two things that she already knew.
1) Boys are fast.
2) Boys are different than girls.

“It was a lot different from being at a girls practice,” said Bennett. “Of course, the speed of play was intense, but they are always making funny jokes and making fun of each other and they swear a lot. They are really competitive with each other. Girls are competitive, but this was way, way competitive. It was a good lesson for me.”

Bennett hopes to train a bit more with the boys over the next two years as she prepares to enter college in the fall of 2010, although she yet to make her college choice.

“I’m so glad I went and I really appreciate them letting me train with them,” said Bennett. “I think my speed of play got a lot better and that was really good coming into National Team camps. It was really nice of them to welcome me and treat me like a regular player instead of just a girl.”