Cortez will be out to impress

KIHEI – Middle schooler Chai Cortez has not played a minute of high school soccer, let alone at a U.S. national team youth camp.

That will change next week, however, as the 13-year-old will travel to Portland, Ore., for “a taste of what it’s like to play for a U.S. national team,” a team official said.

Cortez, of Wailuku, was among 48 players selected to attend an eight-day camp with the under-14 girls national team that starts June 1.

“I’m pretty nervous,” Cortez said. “The competition is really hard up there. I’ve been to a lot of camps in the Mainland so I got a taste of it, but I’m pretty scared.”

Cortez, who recently completed her final year at Lokelani Intermediate School, plays for the Hawaii Surf soccer team and has participated in high-profile camps such as the Olympic Development Program.

The national program identifies and trains youth players and has them compete in events around the world.

Rebecca Filipovic, president of Valley Isle Soccer Academy, trains Cortez two to three times a week and was not surprised of her selection to the U.S. camp.

“It still continues to be a surprise for Chai, which is a good thing for her,” Filipovic said. “Through all of this she has remained level-headed and it will continue her success as a player.”

On Sunday, Filipovic and her husband, Aleks, ran Cortez through a technical evaluation that national players are tested on ? in preparation for her trip to Oregon.

Cortez was focused in each of the drills that challenged her ball handling, endurance and agility.

“She’s still a teenager off the field, but as soon as she steps on the field it’s business, and it clearly shows in the way she trains and plays,” Filipovic said.

Cortez’s determination will serve her well at the camp where she hopes to join the ranks of successful Hawaii soccer players such as Olympic gold medalist Natasha Kai.

Aaron Heifetz, press officer for the U.S. women’s team, said it’s rare for a Hawaii player to be invited to the camp and that Cortez has “a long road” ahead of her.

However, the road will be a lot more comfy with her food, travel, room and equipment expenses all covered by the program. Cortez also will get the opportunity to work with some of the top trainers and coaches in the world.

“Welcome to the national team,” Heifetz said.

The camp Cortez is attending is the first of three across the nation. The under-14 division holds practices, but does not compete against international competition. Heifetz said that the goal for the players is to be invited back to the camp and make the under-17 World Cup team.

“But just because you haven’t been called back to the next camp doesn’t mean it’s over,” he said. “This is not a one-and-done-deal for sure.”

Regardless of whether Cortez is invited back to future camps, she said she looks forward to playing soccer alongside some of the best youth players in the nation.

“It’s my life,” Cortez said.

* Chris Sugidono is at