Nov. 15, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In late August of 2016, Taryn Torres received the phone call she’d been dreading.
It came from B.J. Snow, the head coach of the United States’ under-17 women’s national soccer team. Snow informed Torres, then a senior at Centennial High School in Texas, that she’d been left off the 21-player squad selected to represent the U.S. at the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup.
“It was a shock,” recalled Torres, now in her first year at the University of Virginia. “It was a big disappointment, but I put all the blame on myself, because it was in my control.”
From her early teens, Torres had been a fixture on U.S. Soccer’s age-group national teams. She’d even captained the U17s at one point. But she grew complacent, Torres said, and her conditioning suffered.
“I just didn’t train as hard as I could have been training, and I let my fitness drop,” she said. “To be able to compete at that international level and in soccer in general, you’ve got to be fit. If you’re not fit, you can’t perform. You’re not able to run more, you’re not able to do other things. It’s like a trickle effect, and my confidence went down because I wasn’t starting and my touches became sloppy.
“I remember training and doing fitness, but I didn’t take it to that extra level to get fit, I can say now. So I didn’t make it.”
That Torres took full responsibility for her plight impressed UVA head coach Steve Swanson. He’s also coached on U.S. national teams and knows well how difficult selection decisions can be for all parties involved.
“When I talked to her after [the World Cup selections were announced], I thought she was amazingly mature,” Swanson recalled. “She was upset and disappointed, but she took responsibility and she wished the team well. It disappointed her, but at the same time I thought she handled it in such a unique and inspiring way.
“Here’s a kid in this day and age that’s not bemoaning a coach, bemoaning a decision … Eight out of 10 players are going to take it a completely differently way than Taryn took it. In essence, they don’t take anything away from it that can help them down the road. I think Taryn deserves a lot of credit for that. She looked inside herself, she made some changes that I think have helped her in college, that only that experience would have prepared her for.”
Torres, who stands 5-6, played in the midfield for her club, FC Dallas, and in the national-team program. “She kept the ball moving,” Swanson said. “She was a distributor.”
The Cavaliers use her in more of an attacking role, and Torres has proven adept at that, too. Heading into the NCAA tournament’s second round, she leads the Cavaliers with eight goals, and she was named to the All-ACC third team, as well as the ACC’s all-freshman team, early this month.
“She’s been a factor on both sides of the field,” said Swanson, who’s in his 18th season at UVA.
“She’s a hard worker. She’s a very thoughtful player, a very technical player, and rarely do you see a poor touch out of Taryn. There’s a lot of thought behind her game. She knows where defenders are, she knows where opponents are, she knows where the space is, and she links our team together as well, which has been a real positive.”
The Wahoos left Wednesday morning for Los Angeles, where they hope to have a long stay. One of the four No. 3 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which started last week with 64 teams, Virginia (12-5-4) faces Pepperdine (15-2-3) at UCLA’s Drake Stadium on Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern.
The winner will meet UCLA, a No. 2 seed, or Northwestern in the round of 16 on Sunday.
This has been an unusual season for UVA, which under Swanson has become known for its high-powered offenses. In 2013, for example, Virginia averaged 3.0 goals per game. The `Hoos averaged 3.4 per game in 2014, 3.2 in 2015, and 2.4 in 2016.
“To be able to get as many goals as we’ve gotten from her has been a huge plus, and one of the reasons why we’ve had the season we’ve had so far,” Swanson said.
Each of the Cavaliers’ losses has been by a single goal. Many of their victories have been close too, even though the `Hoos have outshot opponents 337-124.
“I’ve really been impressed with the team and the way they’ve hung in there,” Swanson said. “It’s one of those seasons where you could actually be really frustrated at times, because we’ve played a lot of games where we’ve dominated and the game’s been close.”
Torres, who’s from Frisco, Texas, which is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, grew up expecting to attend a college in California, whose warm climate appealed to her.
“We were interested in Taryn for a long time, but just didn’t get much back from her,” Swanson said.
At the suggestion of her mother and her club coach, however, Torres visited several schools on the East Coast — Virginia, Duke and North Carolina — after which her plans changed.
“I ended up really liking it out here,” said Torres, who committed to UVA during her junior year at Centennial High. “The thing that made up my mind was the visit itself, just seeing the school and meeting the people and seeing the culture.”
Her teammates (and classmates) at UVA include Laurel Ivory and Sydney Zandi, who played for the United States at the U17 Women’s World Cup last season. Torres lives with Ivory, Virginia’s starting goalkeeper. They’ve been friends for years.
“It’s nice to room with someone you know,” Torres said.
In UVA’s first-round game in the NCAA tournament, a 2-0 win over Saint Francis (Pa.) at Klöckner Stadium, Torres scored the second goal. She played 66 minutes in that game, two more than she’s averaging this season.
“I wasn’t expecting to come in and play that much [as a freshman], honestly,” Torres said. “I would have been happy with, like, 15 minutes a game or just getting on the field a little bit. It’s shocking, but I’m more than happy with it.”
She’s pleased, too, with her progress off the field at UVA.
“I think I’ve definitely matured,” Torres said. “As a student, as a person, there’s just little things that I’ve noticed myself doing that I wasn’t doing in high school that I think have really helped me grow.”
She’s managed to turn her setback with the U17 national team into a positive experience.
“I learned from it. It’s not going to happen again,” Torres said.
“I know I’m young, and I’d rather something like that happen now [and not later]. But I think coming to college I’ve definitely matured a lot with my training habits. My fitness has gotten better, and it’s helped other parts of my game.”
In May, Torres was called into the U19 national team for a training camp in Carson, California. Older and wiser than her during her unsuccessful bid to make the U17 national team last year, she hopes to again represent her country on the soccer field.
“No doubt,” Torres said. “I’d love that opportunity.”