When talking to Meagan Holmes, it's as if you're conversing with the average 18-year-old girl. Her favorite food is pizza with ranch dressing. The best gift she ever received was a Louis Vuitton purse. Her favorite TV show is Gilmore Girls and before she graduates from college she wants to fall in love. She's energetic, funny and seemingly only concerned with the present. However, the big difference between Meagan Holmes and your average 18-year-old is she happens to be one of the top players in the country. Holmes is a consensus top five recruit and considered by most experts to be the second-best defender in the nation.
It's been a whirlwind career for Holmes thus far, who attends Dulaney High School in Timonium, Maryland. National team commitments afforded her only one game in a Dulaney Lions uniform during her senior year. Even so, she was her team's MVP in 2003 and 2004 as well as a First-Team All -State player as a freshmen, sophomore and junior. She was a member of the United States U-16's in 2001 and 2002, the U-17's in 2003 and 2004 and was a late addition to the U-19 team that finished third at the World Championships in Thailand last November.
"Playing for the youth national teams, especially with the U-19's at the World Championships in Thailand, really helped me develop as a player. It's a much faster game than club or high school soccer, so I have to be on my toes at all times."
Asked about the best player she's ever had to mark, Holmes replied, "Definitely Anja Mittag, a German International. She's really fast and has great moves. She gave us problems in Thailand, but we did a good job of containing her."
What enables Holmes to contain the likes of Mittag is her speed and incredible athleticism. She's not particularly tall at 5'6, but she's good in the air and has quick feet, which gives her an advantage in one-on-one situations.
Holmes isn't a one-dimensional defensive player by any means, though. She's a gifted athlete and her physical attributes have helped her immensely, but she's intelligent and has good field vision. When she wins the ball from the opposing striker, she doesn't just boot it downfield and back to the other team. She tries to make a smart pass and help her team keep possession of the ball.
To have played for three U.S. national teams and be rated the fifth best player in the country is an astonishing feat for a young woman who has yet to step on the pitch for her university team, Santa Clara, check that, I mean USC.
Not only does Holmes stir things up on the field by playing a fast and athletic style of soccer, but she made headlines recently when she reneged on her oral commitment to play for the University of Santa Clara Broncos in favor of Jim Millinder's USC Trojans. Given that several of her youth club teammates from Bethesda Excel were also signing for Santa Clara, it was considered a lock that Holmes would sign for the Broncos as well.
"I committed to Santa Clara way back during my junior year of high school. I thought it was what I wanted, but when I was away in Thailand for the World Championships, I talked a lot with Amy Rodriguez (Holmes' roommate during the tournament) and she was telling me all about USC and that I should really check it out. It's a much bigger school than Santa Clara and they've got so much to do other than soccer. It's a big university and if I get injured or can't play anymore, there's a lot to do. I thought I would be happier at USC than I would be at Santa Clara, so I decided to sign with them."
Millinder said he'd rather have someone on his squad that wants to be there and is happy with where they are rather than someone who regrets deciding to play for him. "If someone's not happy, I'd rather help them find another place to play than keep them on my squad," Millinder said matter of factly. "It just makes sense, you're going to get a much better performance out of someone who wants to be there than someone who doesn't," referring to Holmes' situation with Santa Clara.
"Meagan verbally committed to Santa Clara during her junior year of high school and a year later decided it wasn't what she wanted. These kids are under so much pressure at such an early age," Millinder said sympathetically. "I'm not saying this happened to Meagan, but some kids get railroaded into committing to one team because they want to get a good deal and know they have a definite place to play, so they go ahead and commit at an early age, often times before they've fully matured as a person and a player."
Surprisingly, Holmes said she hasn't received too much flak for reneging on her oral commitment to play for Santa Clara. "Right after I signed with USC, studentsports.com called and they wrote a story about me signing with USC and breaking my oral commitment with Santa Clara. I also had some friends from my club team going to Santa Clara and for a couple of weeks we didn't speak, it was pretty bad, but now we're fine. My dad and I were talking about this whole situation a few days ago and he thought what I did was pretty rare. Most soccer players go to the school they commit to because there's not that much money (scholarship), so they commit early, but it just didn't feel right to me anymore (going to Santa Clara)."
It's safe bet Jim Millinder is glad Holmes didn't feel comfortable with her decision to attend Santa Clara and decided to come play for him. "She's one of the best players in the country," Millinder said enthusiastically of Holmes. "She's represented her country and also plays for one of the top club teams (Bethesda Excel) in the country. What I like about her is she's athletic and smart. She's great one-on-one and is a good passer of the ball. She'll definitely start this fall."
Santa Clara coaches and fans are probably none too pleased with her decision and in fact Santa Clara's Head Coach, Jerry Smith declined to comment on it. However the reality is that Holmes is just a kid and she made a mistake verbally committing to Santa Clara so early. How many people are equipped to make a decision that would, in essence, affect the rest of their lives when only juniors in high school? In choosing USC, Holmes did what she felt was best for her and it will likely pay off immensely in the future.
When asked if she aspires to turn pro any time soon, Holmes said, "No, I'm going to concentrate on college and get my degree, then if I'm still healthy I'll go for it." She still needs to mature and grow as a player, but if the WUSA is ever resurrected, look for Holmes to be a major player there in four years time.
Mike Stoll covers college soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org