(Gregg Zelkin)

Gregg Zelkin

LB soccer star chases chance at Colombian national team

February 7, 2016

While most students are spending this week redirecting their sleeping schedules and trudging through their first classes back since the storm, sophomore Maria Pareja has traveled to Bogotá, Colombia. There, she’ll be playing soccer in front of some of the nation’s best coaches, in hopes to earn a roster spot on the U17 Colombian national team. Since she was invited to represent her father’s home country, she’s been training tirelessly on her own so she can show up to tryouts ready, but some adjusting has to be done if she wants any chance of snagging a spot on the team.

With the climate being one of the major differences between Colombia and Virginia, Pareja traveled south a few days before tryouts to get her body used to the change.

“Today and tomorrow though I’m just training with a local team to get used to the weather and elevation because we’re in Bogotá right now,” Pareja said. “The elevation is super high so at first it’s going to be really tiring, even running.”

Despite the challenges that Pareja will face before and during tryouts, she has all the time and hard work she’s committed to remind her that she deserves a spot on the team.

“I practiced with my dad a lot either at Lake Braddock or even in my cul de sac just to get touches on the ball,” Pareja said. “I went to the gym a lot as well to stay in shape and get stronger.”

maria action shot 2-2John Lorence
Because her father is Colombian, she feels a sense of pride towards the country, which adds to her motivation to be able to wear red, blue and yellow.

“Ever since I found out about this, I’ve been working so hard to make this team,” Pareja said. “Being able to represent, in my case one of my countries, would be incredible.”

Pareja would be proud to wear a Colombian uniform on the field, and it would mean the world to her dad.

“My parents have sacrificed so much for me with soccer between paying all these expensive fees to wasting their whole weekend at tournaments and games,” Pareja said. “Not only knowing that all my hard work paid off, but theirs as well, would be really nice for them. My dad would be ecstatic if I were playing for the country he was born in.”

Pareja’s parents aren’t the only ones who are credited for her successes, because her teammates have helped her excel as a player as well.

“We’re really close,” Pareja said, “and playing against them and pushing each other has helped my game a lot.”

Because Pareja’s future in soccer is unclear, making the team may give her the extra push she needs to reach her dreams.

“Being on the national team, I think would definitely give me the confidence that I can take my career far if I wanted to,” Pareja said, “and have the potential, if I work hard, to eventually one day make the women’s team and play professionally.”

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