International level soccer: Teens play overseas for Olympic program

Strasburg sophomore Aileen Guthrie, 15, performs a soccer ball trick outside Strasburg High School recently. Guthrie and Stonewall Jackson's Virginia Biller went to Hungary and Austria to play soccer for the state Olympic Development Team team. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG — Virginia Biller and Aileen “Beanie” Guthrie had the experience of a lifetime recently.

Biller, a Stonewall Jackson freshman and Guthrie, a Strasburg sophomore, went overseas for 10 days to play with the Virginia Olympic Development Program (ODP) team. They went to Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary, to play four soccer games against club teams from those countries. There were four state teams that made the trip, two boys teams and two girls teams. They were on the same girls team.

“It’s the most valuable experience I’ve had so far in soccer, because it’s an international trip and you get to play soccer at a different level,’ Guthrie said.

Biller said she originally did not make the team, but she received an email later asking if she wanted to be on the team.

“I went to three or four practices with team before the trip,” Biller said. “We went to the airport for the trip and I did not know anyone at all. Within the first two days I knew everyone’s name. It was so much fun getting to know all these girls, because honestly I could talk to any of them about anything now. They are my best friends. I still text them on the group chat every once in a while.”

Stonewall's Virginia Biller looks for a kick as Riverheads' Jordan Annese trails behind her during their recent game in Quicksburg. Biller and Strasburg's Aileen Guthrie recently went to Europe to play soccer for the state Olympic Development team. Rich Cooley/Daily

This is Biller’s first year on the ODP program, and Guthrie’s second year. Guthrie said once every two years the state team takes an international trip for different age groups to play against teams from other countries. They select players from the pool of state ODP players typically. Biller said she is not on the state team, but is on the regional level of ODP.

Guthrie said that the teams they played against had older players on their teams.

“Some were on the Slovakian national team and Hungary and Austrian national teams. So that was really cool,” Guthrie said. “…We didn’t know they were national players until after the games. We were surprised. Everyone was kind of surprised that they didn’t back off or anything against us. I’m really glad they didn’t, because that really pushed us to work harder. I think it brought my level of soccer up.”

The girls were in Vienna from March 20-24, and then Budapest from March 25-28.

Biller said she and Guthrie had no idea they were the only Shenandoah County students on the trip until after they left.

“I didn’t even know that Beanie went to Strasburg,” Biller said. “On the plane I was like ‘where do you guys go to school?’ And she said ‘Strasburg’. I was like ‘oh, that’s really close to me.'”

When they weren’t playing games, the pair said they did a lot of sightseeing and had tours to different places around the cities.

Guthrie said they saw a lot of castles in Budapest.

“In Vienna we saw historical buildings. We didn’t really go in them, but we took a lot of pictures of them,” Guthrie said. “Both cities were really pretty. Vienna had really pretty churches, and Budapest had really pretty castles.”

Biller said that while she loves playing soccer, “the sightseeing was probably my favorite thing.

“Just walking down the street you saw all the different streets all the different buildings. They all were so beautiful and they look so different than the buildings here. The buildings here are kind of plain, but the buildings there — each one is kind of old and they’ve got carvings in it.”

They both said they enjoyed the food, and they were served deserts with every meal, even breakfast.

Biller said that one food in particular stood out to her at a pizza restaurant.

“One of the coaches got tuna and something else pizza, and they made me try it. It was the grossest things I ever had in my entire life,” Biller said.

They both felt like they did well on the pitch. Guthrie scored three goals in the four games, and Biller said she felt like she played well on defense.

Before they played, Guthrie said they had to write a word on their wrist and then explain why they chose the word. She wrote “effective.”

“I told them I wanted to be effective by scoring and helping our team win,” Guthrie said. “I think that really pushed me to be a leader on our team and help them win.”

Biller said one of her favorite memories from the trip was on the second to last day.

“They gave us the whole day to do whatever we wanted. We could go into town in groups, we could do whatever,” Biller said. “A bunch of us went to the pool and we just sat in the hut tub, and we just talked for like three hours and we got to know each other even more. It was a lot of fun bonding with them.”

Both players have been playing since they were or 4 or 5. They took different routes to get where they are now.

Guthrie said that she played on some recreational teams, and played on a local club team, but switched to the Prince William Courage when she was about 13. She said that she also worked with Chris Peter, who runs the Shenandoah Soccer Academy, and he’s helped her out a lot.

Guthrie said she also trains with James Frisby at Frisby’s Agility, Speed & Strength Training in Winchester. She said Frisby has helped her a lot with her running.

She said the Prince William Courage team plays year-round and she has chosen not to play soccer for the high school team. She said that she goes to soccer practice in Prince William County on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and plays games on Saturday with her Prince William County team.

Biller said she also played through recreational leagues when she was younger, and then began playing travel soccer with he Broadway Soccer Club. She said she had to give up cross country in the fall in order to go to practices for the ODP district team.

She plays for Stonewall Jackson’s soccer team this season, and is starting as a freshman.

Both players are hoping to play in college. Guthrie just went to the University of Cincinnati as one of 71 players chosen from around the country to participate in the United Soccer League Experience, a high-level player program that connects young players with professional ranks. Biller said she will be going to one at William & Mary this weekend.

Guthrie was recently selected to be in the 2016 U.S. Youth Soccer Region I ODP Tournament on June 10-12 in Mercer County, New Jersey.

No matter what the future holds for the pair, they both said that they would love to return overseas someday and play soccer.

“I’m never going to forget the trip,” Guthrie said. “But I hope one day I can go back overseas and play, too.”

Biller said the biggest thing she learned from the trip is how universal soccer is.

“No matter who you play with or where you are it’s the same sport, and if you love it as much as the person next to you then you’re going to play together just fine,” Biller said. “I was afraid at first that I wouldn’t be able to play with these girls because I didn’t know them. My travel team — I’ve been with them for so long. We know how to play with each other. We flow together. (On the trip) it was, I don’t know, with these girls we might not have that connection. But I realized soccer is an universal thing, and everyone that plays it can play together because it’s just a united sport.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com