Lucas Monserrat '17, Obi Nnaeto '18, and Shea Smith '18 are just three of more than two dozen college athletes using the Greig Center over their winter break to stay in shape.
Natalia Ramirez '19 was recently selected to play for Colombia's Under-17 Women's National Soccer Team, which is preparing for a World Cup qualifier in March.
The soccer standout, who was born and raised in the U.S. but spent summers in her parents' native Colombia, was noticed by the National Team thanks to highlight videos she posted on YouTube and Hudl. In December, over Winter Break, she was invited to the team's training camp as a "guest," she explains. It was, in fact, a try-out. Back at home a few days later, the coach informed her father that she had made the team and invited her to attend another training camp in January—this time not as a guest, but as a member of Colombia's team.
Natalia's steady rise to national-level soccer has early roots. She began playing when she was just three years old, after standing on the sidelines of her older brother's games (Sebastian is four years older) and watching intently. She chased the ball down the full length of the field, she recalls. "I'll never forget the time Sebastian's coach, Coach Gustavo, named me the team's mascot. It was possibly one of the happiest moments of my life. For that reason, I began playing soccer days later."
Because there were no developed girls' teams for her to play on during her summers in Colombia or even in her hometown of Elizabeth, she played with boys until she was 13, first on a recreational team and then on a boys' academy team, NJSA 04. From there, she moved to International Girls Futbol Academy (GFA) until just last year, when she joined the Player Development Academy (PDA).
Her dad was her very first coach, she says, and tried her out in every position, including as goalie, which her brother played. That didn't go so well, she recalls. "I got distracted by everything and would always let goals in. So, my dad moved me to defense, midfield, and finally, he tried me out as a forward, which is where I play now. I'd say I've made a lot of progress. I work hard every day to become a better player. My family is my biggest motivation. The amount of support I get from them inspires me to develop more and more every time I step on the field."
Based in Bogota at the Colombian Soccer Federation, Colombia's Under-17 Women's National Team is preparing for Sudamericano, the South American World Cup qualifier, which will take place in Argentina in March. If Natalia's team is successful, they will qualify for the Under-17 World Cup next fall. She is currently taking a semester leave of absence to participate, but continuing her studies through another program while away.
The only non-native Colombian—though fluent Spanish speaker—on the team, Natalia is embracing the experience. "Wearing the Colombian jersey brings a ton of pride and joy to my family, and it's quite an honor to represent my country. It's a dream come true," she says. "I'm most excited to play at an international level and become exposed to different styles of play, which I can learn a lot from. I'm also excited to make memories with my teammates that I know will never be forgotten, both on and off the field."
Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org