SWOL Exclusive: Ellie Jean Discusses Life with United States Under 17 National Team

USWNT U-17 rising star Ellie Jean (Image via her offical Facebook Page)

USWNT U-17 rising star Ellie Jean (Image via her offical Facebook Page)

Over recent years, the United Men’s National Team has increasingly captivated the American audience with World Cup runs, coaching changes, and heart-felt victories as Landon Donovan lifted the squad into the next stages in South Africa in 2010.  Numerous young male talents are examined as a number of journalists try an predict their college and professional career aspirations, and often leave the women’s team on the backdrop.

As the United States Women’s National Team continues to gain steam in the United States and throughout the world after their runner-up performance in the 2011 World Cup, and their most recent triumph at the Olympics over Japan to reclaim gold certainly have helped their following.  With the emergence of the National Women’s Soccer League and the increased following of the women’s game, younger generations are once again regaining their unconditional love for the game as numerous avenues in University, abroad and domestically continue to open for young females.

Current United States Women’s Under-17 member Ellie Jean graciously sat down to speak about how her life has transformed from her early years as she was involved with gymnastics, to her increasing interest in soccer over the years.  According to Top Drawer Soccer, the current five-star Oakwood defender has a Regional ranking of #1 in the Northeast, and from a positional standpoint is a #3 ranked defender.  The Connecticut native began her stint with the Youth National Teams from the early age of 14, and has appeared in numerous ID Camps, and even recently appeared in the Under 17 friendly matches against Germany.

The class of 2015 prospect’s soccer future looks extremely bright as she recently just committed to Penn State to continue her career.  Ellie graciously took time to speak with SWOL’s Robert Moore to speak about her everyday life, her growth as a young soccer player, her journey towards the Youth National Team, and her future aspirations.

Robert Moore: What is it like to play amongst some of the best talents in the United States and what have you learned the most from playing against international competition?

Ellie Jean: It is definitely a privilege, and very rewarding.  I get to meet many different types of people, with many different personalities, from different states and countries.  It is difficult sometimes because I come from a place where I am the best. Then I go to play with and against other girls that are also the best, makes this an eye opening experience.  It is real nerve wracking [playing at a national level], because it is such a big process.

So far we’ve only played one international match against Germany, but I feel like the hardest teams to play against are the club teams we play because we are expected to win.  For instance, we have played teams club teams in California and usually we win, but there was one game where we got destroyed.  We are the USA and we lost to them ‘What is going on?’ I feel plenty of pressure on us to perform well, but we are still young so mistakes happen.

RM: For awhile, the US Women’s National Team took a back seat to the US Men’s National Team. We have seen a high increase in the US Women’s National Team following during their 2011 runner-up performance in Germany and then receiving a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics in Great Britain.  Any thoughts on how women’s soccer in the United States has become increasingly popular?

EJ: I think the exposure that we have to [the USA Women's National Team], the commercials that the women’s players do makes a big difference - and it helps that the senior team members are very interactive with the community.  The exposure the women’s game has gotten comes from their recent successes and that really has helped us.  Recently, at camp we had the pleasure of meeting Alex Morgan, Rachel Buehler, Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm.  Speaking and listening to them was great and creates a more personal relationship.

RM: Digging deeper, has there ever been a point where you wished you could play with your friends on the high school team?

EJ: Most definitely - there actually have been plenty of times, and being on the team is a lot of sacrifice.  Everything your doing is playing soccer, school work, and leaves little room for friends.  [In terms of playing with high school] I wish I did get a chance to play.  Instead, I do cross country in the fall to keep my stamina up for my soccer season while also playing with the boys team at Oakwood [in Glastonbury, CT] has made a positive impact.  However, I do get a high school experience a little bit as I do get to see my friends, but it is saddening sometimes because I see everyone having fun with their friends while I’m away in California.  Even though this is saddening at times, I look at the bigger picture: I am trying to get somewhere and working hard to reach my goals.

RM: As you’re heading to Costa Rica later this month (April 21-29) do you have any specific goals in mind in preparation for possible selection to the 2014 FIFA U-17 World Cup roster?

EJ: It is really weird because last year the camps were more spread out, and we did not have a lot of camps like this year - now we are having a camp just about every month.  Usually we get a lot of feedback [from the coaches], but lately we work on our improvements there.  At home, I touch the ball all the time, and do everything I can to get better.  As the World Cup gets closer I become more anxious, because the Under 17 boys did not make it.  I now feel everyone has looked towards us a little more, which is a lot of pressure, but once your at the level like this, we thrive on the pressure.

RM: So, Penn State in 2015? What compelled you to commit to the university and to join Head Coach Erica Walsh’s squad?

EJ: I am very excited about my decision!  I wanted to go to a big college because growing up in a small town it has been boring at times.  For my college choice, I wanted to meet a new face every day, I wanted to go to a big soccer school.  I went to visit Penn State in the fall of last year and right away it was really great to tour and met the players.  I visited other schools, but the relationship I had with Coach Walsh made me feel an immediate connection that she would help me work towards my goals and the soccer teams as well.

I feel like Penn State is a big family and will offer me a lot in terms of my soccer ability.  I wanted to go help build up the program, and at Penn State I feel like I can do that when college rolls around.  Overall the opportunity I have there is going to be great - I loved the coaches and the entire program because all involved are so inviting.  Plus, I still need my family to be involved and Penn State is fairly close to my home, so that’s a plus!

RM: Certainly, it must be tough juggling a busy high school schedule and traveling to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California? 

EJ: It is difficult, and definitely not easy at all.  The more I go away to camps or matches, the harder school becomes.  My teachers give lots of work, and I have to teach myself so not being in the class is tough, but I do as much as I can.  I think not having the teacher there when I am doing my work is the hardest part.  In the end I get it [my work] done, all my teachers are very understanding, and I stay after school to manage my workload.  In terms of my friends and what they think about me being on the national team;  some brag about me to their friends which I think is great!

Overall my friends are very grounded by it, and treat me as a normal 16 year old high school kid.  I first knew that I could possibly fulfill my dreams when I moved to Oakwood after speaking with my mom, where I would begin to take soccer more seriously in a tough program.  The team was so good when I first started playing with them so it made me a bit nervous at first.  I used to come home bawling my eyes out because I felt like an outcast, but as I met the players I became much more comfortable with the new situation.

Then came the national training centers, where Tony Lepore was at the center and my club coach indicated that Tony was thinking of bringing me into the ID camp. [At the time] I did not know what camp was, or anything about it really.  This experience has all happened so fast - pretty awesome and but I’m happy with the opportunity I’ve been given.  It’s come fast, but I just go with the flow.

RM: You’ve grown up participating in sports practically your entire life and with your father (Domingo Jean) who once played for the New York Yankees, your mother (Rebecca Taylor) who serves as a Counselor for numerous athletic programs at UConn.  How has this athletics-based background shaped who you are today?

EJ: Having a family unit that really cares about my development has made a big impact on my life.  I want to be the best at whatever I do and I try to do everything as well as I possibly can.  I like to do everything 100% and I try to maintain a positive mindset.  Transitioning to a positive mindset on the field and in life, has made me an overall happier person.  Being an athlete has made me tougher - I’ve experienced that playing soccer you can do all on the field, and still lose.

I can relate this to life because you can do all you can, but still not get a promotion in your job, or a good grade on a test. In the end you just have to keep working hard.  Overall though, I am a healthy kid who exercises a lot and I try an eat healthy which helps a lot.

RM: When did you finally realize that your dream was starting to become a reality and that a place on the US Under 17′s could be an attainable goal?

EJ: In the beginning, I honestly had no idea that there was youth national teams.  I had no idea or concept of camps and what these camps did.  Since being involved with the national team system, there has been several camps I’ve attended.  At these camps, I recently began to realize recently that I could really make it to where I want to be in life.  Kevin [Bacher] and my mom [Rebecca Taylor] recommended I train at Oakwood - but I would not be where I am without them.  My family unit knew I wanted to play soccer and believed in me, I just didn’t know how good I could be.  The camps are eye-opening that if you want it, you can get it.

RM: Here’s a simple question for you: Who’s your current favorite US Women’s National Team member and why?

EJ: I would say Sydney Leroux.  She is my favorite because she is tough, and really like ‘punk-ish’.  She is really fast, and I love being fast.  She scores lots of goals, and Leroux is an awesome player and who has a great style of play in the attack.  I watched an interview with her one day and I instantly related to her very easily.  At times you want to quit and give up, but you have to keep going and believe in yourself. I love all of the current members of the team though and meeting these women at camps, makes me see them more as human beings.

RM: Ellie, It was a pleasure speaking with you and I want to thank you for your time.  Best of wishes in Costa Rica in a few weeks, and I hope to see you as a senior team member in the years to come.

Follow Robert on Twitter at Robert_Moore24

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