March 26, 2012
Georgia Soccer defender Nikki Hill recently traveled to Costa Rica and Panama with the Canadian U20 squad, and helped the team earn a bid to the 2012 U20 World Cup this summer in Japan. This is her account of the trips.
By Nikki Hill
Hello from Panama! It’s been a while since I’ve been in Georgia!…missing all my teammates and friends in Athens already and its only been two weeks of training camp in Costa Rica. Luckily being an Arizona girl I am happy to be missing the Georgia cold with this beautiful Costa Rican sun! Costa Rica is beautiful full of palm trees and rainforests, and the beaches are amazing! 23 girls were invited to the pre-world cup qualifying camp in Costa Rica, and by the end of the week our coach had to submit the 20-player roster for qualifying. It was hard to say goodbye to three girls before heading to Panama after spending two weeks bonding as a team. It was great seeing some old friends from previous camps and meeting some new ones from universities all over the US. While in Costa Rica we had two-a-days and tough fitness testing feeling like Georgia preseason all over again! After the first week we played Costa Rica’s senior team and unfortunately lost, however, the score wasn’t indicative of the game because we had chances that we didn’t put away and they scored off of our mistakes from being a young group of players that weren’t used to each others style of play yet. However, we did redeem ourselves by beating the best female club team named Arenal Coronado later during the week. During these two exhibition games the coach played everyone at camp as an evaluation of our skills and to get a feel for our new team. Camp in Costa Rica was one of the most competitive environments I have ever been placed into as three girls were getting cut and you only had two weeks to prove your abilities to a new national coaching staff whom had never seen some of us play before.
Finally the much-anticipated Sunday game. Sunday was the final day in Costa Rica concluding the 2-week long pre-camp before the extended 2 weeks in Panama. After practice Sunday night, they announced the roster for qualifying in Panama. I was so excited and honored to be selected to represent Canada in World Cup Qualifying and try to help our team to a CONCACAF championship. When we arrived in Panama, I was surprised at how modernized Panama City is with huge skyscrapers and buildings very city-like! Once again the weather was beautiful even hotter than in Costa Rica. In our bracket we had Haiti, Jamaica, and Mexico. The opposing bracket had the US, Cuba, and Panama. The tournament started off just the way we wanted with a 5-0 win over Haiti. Our first half started slow but we were able to turn it on in the second half to come away with the win. Game two I started at left back against a feisty Jamaican side. Ironically facing a future bulldog and fellow defender, Torri Patterson. We had a were able to find goals in the 76th minute and onward to finally win 2-0 against a really athletic Jamaican team. It was also awesome that our Defense coach here at Georgia, Dan Blank, was able to make it to Panama to watch Torri and I go head to head fighting for our countries! Our team had a lot of momentum and a great feeling from winning our two matches in our group stage. However we knew that the third game would be the toughest against an always competitive Mexican side. I had previously played Mexico at camps in the past years with Canada coming out with a draws or close games. One of my good old friends from my club team in Arizona, Ari Romaro, plays for the Mexican side so again it was funny to see another familiar face. Everyone was watching this game knowing it would set up for a final group clash where we (Canada) would have to win in order to finish on top of Group A to avoid playing the best team in the tournament the US. We beat Mexico 1-0, winning all three of our round robin games and we were headed to the semi-finals against Panama! With that win, we would qualify for the U20 Women’s World Cup in Japan (Woohoo no preseason :) kidding, love preseason!)
The semifinal was wild as Panama had the home field advantage with probably 5,000 fans in attendance and bands playing during the match. It was so loud at one time someone in the crowd blew a whistle and I stopped playing thinking it was the referee. It was a great experience learning to handle the stress of rowdy fans and playing under uncontrollable conditions. I played left back this game as we defeated Panama 6-0. After the game everyone was so happy and excited that all our hard work in Costa Rica had paid off and that we would be heading to Japan this summer as one of 16 out of 208 countries to qualify for the u20 Women’s World Cup. At the same time we had one day off to rest and prepare ourselves for the toughest and most anticipated game of the tournament. Canada vs. the US! This game meant the most to me, being the only Canadian player whose family lives in the US. I was also super excited to play against another former club teammate from Arizona, Julie Johnson. Our head coach announced the starting lineup for the game, sitting nervously, he told me I would be starting at right back. I was so excited and nervous for the game! Once the whistle blew everything settled down, but both teams had their eye on the Gold Medal. We took an early lead scoring in the first five minutes of the game, going up 1-0 on the US. Then in the 79th minute the US finally broke through to tie up the game. With one minute remaining in the game the US scored, eventually winning the game 2-1. It was heartbreaking, but also a very good test for us to see where we stand before the World Cup this summer, as the US is always a superpower in soccer. Previous to this camp they had beaten the best countries in Europe and Asia, whom will be in Japan this summer competing as well. Following the heartbreaker, we immediately went to the medal ceremony where US, Canada, and Mexico all received their respective medals and awards from the Concacaf officials earning spots in Japan.
Although the majority of the tournament was solely soccer based due to the short month long we had together to prepare for the tournament, we did get to do a few fun things as well. During the first two weeks in Costa Rica, we got one day off completely from soccer and team meetings to go to the beach, which was amazing!! Also in Panama during the tournament between the group phase and playoffs we visited the Panama Canal on our day off. It was cool we got to see an enormous boat passing through the canal. Of course, during the two a days during the down time a few times we would sneak to the beautiful pools in our hotel to catch some sun! (shhh!!) All in all, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget! Although it was a long month missing my Georgia girls, the level of play and standards that you are held to at National camp make you grow as a player both on and off the field so I knew this experience was worth all the sacrifices and hopeful that all the experience I gained with the National team can only help me further grow as a Bulldog to help lead UGA to a SEC and National Championship!