Good friends, Julianne Kovacik and Carly Naylor, both 15, are at Naylor's family reunion in Ohio until Saturday. They were originally scheduled to return home to Houston (Kingwood, to be precise) Sunday night after a couple days of driving. But, when the U.S. women's soccer team made the final, which will be played Sunday morning, plans changed.
"We're driving like 19 hours straight through back to Texas just to watch the game," Naylor told Hair Balls Friday.
Both young ladies, who are too young to remember the last U.S. women's national team World Cup winner, are getting their first opportunity to see women's soccer take center stage in front of a global audience. While they didn't get the opportunity to watch players like Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers live in 1999, they responded in unison when asked who their favorite player is in 2011: "Abby Wambach."
They pointed to Wambach's heart-stopping header goal in the quarter finals against Brazil as an example of why. "She heads the ball in the goal almost every game," Kovacik said. Naylor added, "That's our favorite part of the game, heading the ball."
Kovacik and Naylor are not only close friends, they are teammates on Challenge 96 Kingwood, a nearly-year-round girls soccer club. Naylor, a middle defender, began playing at the age of four; Kovacik, an attacking midfielder, at age five. Both discovered soccer through family members who played the game.
As thrilled as they are at the success of the women's national team, they also believe it is great for girls everywhere. "I think [the national team] inspires a lot of girls around the world," Naylor told us. Both believe that soccer is a sport that allows women to compete on a similar level to men. "I think girls, if they work hard enough, can be the same or better than boys," Kovacik said.
Naylor also plays for her high school team at Kingwood Park High School and Kovacik plays for the Kingwood High School girls team. Given their opposing positions on the field, they are glad that the schools are in different districts, so they don't have to face one another competitively. Naylor is uncertain as to whether she wants to continue playing soccer after high school, but Kovacik, who says she wants to play in college, has even loftier aspirations thanks to the women of U.S. soccer. "They inspire me to maybe eventually [try out for the U.S.] national team."
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Whatever they choose to do after high school, these two young women see themselves in the U.S. women's team. Naylor said, "All the players on the national team have been playing their whole lives, just like us."
The women's World Cup final versus Japan airs Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.