It is a Thursday evening in early February, and the Pleasanton Marriott in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Pleasanton is a study in contrasts. The parking lot is full, but the hotel restaurant is empty and only a handful of folks are sitting at the lobby bar. It's only when you stroll down the corridor to the banquet room that you see activity. There are dozens of young girls, the oldest in college sweatshirts, and their families milling around outside the banquet room. Inside, the podium table stretches from one wall to the other with 21 places set with gift bags, paper and pen.
It's signing night for Pleasanton Rage, a girls soccer program. Signing night has become an annual ritual at many competitive girls programs, an opportunity to honor — and showcase — those players who have signed letters of intent to play college soccer. For the last five years, Rage has hosted a signing night. Outgoing Rage president John Cligny calls it the club's most exciting event of the year.
Rage has graduated 133 players who have gone on to play college soccer since 2001. Rage's 2009 class consists of 21 players — 20 headed to Division I programs and one to NAIA school Southern Oregon — representing three teams. The core comes from the '91 team, which technical director Philippe Blin calls his "dream team" and which finished third at the 2007 U-16 U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships. The Rage star is Santa Clara-bound Olivia Klei, a starter on the U.S. team that finished second at the 2008 Under-17 Women's World Cup in New Zealand. Rage also has players headed to 2008 sweet 16 women's programs UCLA (Sophie Metz and Ahsha Smith), Notre Dame (Maddie Fox) and Boston College (Maddie Payne).
At signing night, former Rage players Judy Coffman, Katie Mahoney and Kendra Perry relate their college experiences — the ups and downs of their careers — and Erika Carlson, the club's consulting psychologist, points out that among the crucial qualities the Rage players have is vulnerability. "You are willing to take direct feedback," she says.
Most players began in the club's recreational program. They were 8 when the USA won the 1999 Women's World Cup and are the first generation to grow up following that historic event for women's sports. The French-born Blin says he knew the girls were a special group when they were U-11s. Five players joined the program in high school.
"Team bonding helped with player integration," said Blin. "It is also easy to integrate players when they are as good (or better) as the current players on the team."
The Rage program encompasses 2,000 players, 400 of them in the competitive program. The club's staff works on managing the expectations of players and their parents — the dream of a college scholarship and the reality, the Rage Class of 2009 notwithstanding, that few players get scholarships and those scholarships are most often not full scholarships.
Among the keys, Blin says, are players and parents taking ownership of the college process and college coaches getting honest recommendations from him and the Rage technical staff.
(This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Soccer America magazine.)