April 30, 2015
There will be skills developed, to be sure.
And there will be exceptional competition.
But for University of Notre Dame women’s soccer player Katie Naughton, there is no doubt what the greatest benefit will be for her as she and fellow Fighting Irish defender Cari Roccaro participate in United States Under-23 Women’s National Team training camp running through May 3 in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.
“It’s definitely a great honor each and every time you put on that USA jersey–practice, game, whatever it may be,” Naughton said of wearing the red, white and blue. “There really is no other feeling. You really can’t put it into words. It’s very special.”
Naughton and Roccaro hope to excel at the Team USA Under-23 training camp well enough to put on those colors later in May when the U.S. team travels to Norway for competition against national Under-23 teams from Norway, England and Sweden.
The field of 24 players — all collegians — invited to the U.S. camp will be narrowed to 20 for the event in Norway. Naughton and Roccaro are two of a continent of 10 players from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The next largest conference contingent is four, from the Pacific-12.
Notre Dame women’s soccer head coach Theresa Romagnolo said the national camp experience for Naughton and Roccaro will benefit the Irish as a whole.
“That’s the highest level in the U.S. for their age group,” Romagnolo said. “Any time they come back here, they’re bringing that experience, that leadership, that quality, playing at that next level with the U.S. team. For me, they are continuing to develop and get better. It will be exciting to see when they get back, what they bring to our team.”
National experience is a plus for the current players, and is a boost on the recruiting trail.
“Our goal here is to develop a number of players who can play either on youth national teams or play professionally,” Romagnolo said. “We have a lot of people who aspire to those things. We’re trying to create an environment where every day we’re competing and making each other better.”
Roccaro captained the U.S. National Under-20 squad the past two seasons and has racked up All-America honors in her collegiate and club experience.
“The national camp is a continuance of our fitness and technical development in the spring, so we can get together with some of the best college players in the country and stay sharp,” Roccaro said of how she and Naughton will benefit from the experience.
As the nation’s top college players gather in Florida for the camp, Roccaro said the intensity is always at a premium.
“You always have to be at your best,” Roccaro said following last weekend’s match against the Mexico U-20 National Team. “It’s sharper, it’s faster, you have to think quicker. It’s a higher level. Training with our college team this spring has prepared me for that because our team has played really well. I think I’m going to be ready to go and step up to that next level.”
Naughton said training with a group of elite athletes would push her and Roccaro to be at their best.
“Going to the U-23 camp will be really good for me and Cari as well because we’ll be immersed in a group of players who are the best in the country,” Naughton said. “We have to compete every day and raise our game to make sure that we stay with them.
“It forces my game to pick up a little bit, to know where I’m going to go with my passes before I get it and have a better awareness of the game. I’ll try to bring that back to Notre Dame in the fall.”
Roccaro, one of the top midfielders/defenders in the nation, said her focus is on improving her game when she has possession of the ball.
“I think this will help me with my decision-making with the ball and in dealing with tough, pressure situations where I have to think and make the smarter decision, the quicker decision,” Roccaro said. “By being in that environment with players who are just as smart and just as quick as I am, that will help me elevate that part of my game.”
For Roccaro and Naughton, the invitations fuel their Olympic and World Cup dreams.
“This gets your name out there,” Roccaro said. “It gets you in the development of the youth national team program. It keeps you going on that ladder up to the national team. It’s always difficult to make that next step to the national team, but it keeps you on that path.”
— Curt Rallo, special correspondent