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Soccer star performs at national level

Senior Haley Berg dribbles around a defender from Poteet High School in the Panther Cup Tournament, hosted by Princeton.  Playing for a spot in the finals, the Bobcats lost 5-0  to the Pirates.

Senior Haley Berg dribbles around a defender from Poteet High School in the Panther Cup Tournament, hosted by Princeton. Playing for a spot in the finals, the Bobcats lost 5-0 to the Pirates.

Kaitlyn Vana, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

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A proud smile hid any nervousness he could’ve felt standing before the crowd of supporters. Taking a deep breath, he made a brief run-through in his mind over every point he knew he needed to hit.

Those listening waited respectfully.

“If you’re here to witness this today, it’s because you mean something to her.”

His fatherly voice trembled slightly under the strain of overwhelming emotion. After taking a moment to compose himself, and his watery eyes landed on the beaming blonde wearing burnt orange letters that spelled “Texas.” In front of her was a packet of papers the crowd of spectators waited anxiously to see signed. Friends, family and coaches surrounded the decorated table, all in support for a decision that was first made in 8th grade.

Senior Haley Berg has been playing soccer since she was four years old, but her national recognition in soccer began in middle school. Most eighth graders worry about the latest fad or their new braces; meanwhile Berg debated between college offers. After endless nights and tireless calls, she settled on the University of Texas. In the first weeks of February she was allowed to finalize that decision after three years of verbal commitment.

“I honestly didn’t think I was anything special, it’s still hard to imagine it all being exceptional,” Berg said. “To me it was just picking what school I wanted to go to. It worked out, though. I love the coaches and my mind hasn’t changed.”

Berg officially signed with UT while attending a nationals camp in Florida, but the signing party that took place in the school library gave Celina the opportunity to show its support as a community off the field and on it, as Berg played on the varsity soccer team for a second and final year.

“I love playing for my school,” Berg said. “It’s just fun to have the town backing you up. You get to meet people you wouldn’t normally hang out with or talk to, it really gives you a new, great set of friends.”

Just one game into the district, Berg has already scored 10 goals. Last year she was named district MVP and Newcomer of the Year for  all-area, averaging four goals per game and leading the DFW area with 50 goals in 15 games.

“That was our first year, and we made it to the second round of the playoffs,” Berg said. “We didn’t get hardly any recognition for it. I’m not saying that we’re the most important sport, I just wish that people didn’t write it off as some dumb sport that doesn’t matter. I’ve put everything into this sport.”

Often training twice per day, five times a week, Berg undergoes constant fitness work and sessions. At one point, she found herself pushing through seven games in one day. For her, however, the hardest part is not physical, but mental.

“Attitude and hard work,” Berg said. “If you have a bad attitude and think that you’re entitled to playing at this level, or you think you don’t have to work hard, you’re wrong. You’re so wrong. There’s so much extra work put into this thing, like nobody knows.”

The on-field intelligence displayed at a camp in California last summer earned her the lone tryout invitation extended to a resident of Texas for the U18 women’s national team. She now bears the distinction of being one of two Texans on the U18 team. The U18 WNT exists as a “rite of passage” for players hoping to qualify for the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup, which is held every two years. The U18 team placed second in Ireland for the 2016 Women’s International Cup.

“It just means so much,” Berg said. “I’ve always wanted to be on the national team, even though technically I’m not quite there yet. I’ve literally worked my whole life for this. It’s become my lifestyle. I don’t do anything else or think about anything else; it’s always been just soccer and getting there.”

Berg said she draws inspiration from some of the best women’s soccer players, such as Mia Hamm, who set the bar for women’s soccer everywhere as the number one goal scorer in the world. Hamm’s print on American soccer is well documented, and Berg’s dream is to follow in her footsteps. Having been invited to play with the U.S. U18 national team in Ireland in mid-October, Berg is one step closer to creating her own soccer legacy.

“Everyone talked about her skill and her maturity on the field at such a young age,” girls varsity soccer coach Steve Nichols said. “She could really see the game. Her vision for passing angles and being able to notice how she could split a player here for her teammate to run onto the ball, it’s just extraordinary.”

Berg currently plays select soccer on a ‘99 ENCL Solar team under Andrin Solca, coach and head of soccer operations for Chelsea. The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) houses some of the best teams and players in the country, standing as the highest level for select players. Berg’s involvement in ECNL and national team raises questions as to whether she should play high school soccer at all. As a senior with college and national recruitment in the future, an injury now would be crippling.

“I’m not really that concerned about getting hurt [playing high school soccer],” Berg said. “That can happen in any game. It could happen in my club games, it could happen driving to school; if something’s going to happen, it’ll happen.”

Berg admits that she still has a long way to go to accomplish her goal, but assures everyone that she won’t stop working until her moment comes.  

“There have been last minute goals, last minute wins, here and there,” Berg said. “There hasn’t been that one special thing, though. I don’t think I’m going to have one until I’ve made it; until I’m all the way there.”

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