Waterloo Region Record

Kitchener’s Lesic gains some valuable internatio­nal experience in Europe

17-year-old trained with Croatian under-17 team

- ALANA THOMAN Special to The Record

Local soccer player Nikolina Lesic had the opportunit­y to gain internatio­nal soccer experience in her parents’ home country when she participat­ed in the Croatian Football Federation’s National U17 Camp in Osijek, Croatia.

“It was amazing and unreal,” Lesic said. “I just felt so honoured and just being able to go and represent my heritage and get to wear the checkers and the Croatian logo meant so much.”

Lesic, who is heavily involved with the Croatian community in Kitchener, wanted the opportunit­y to watch or possibly take part in a training session with the Croatian team while her family was vacationin­g there earlier this year.

She said her family goes there to visit relatives every other year.

In order to see if this was a possibilit­y, Lesic’s father Donny reached out to the U17 Croatian coach and asked if there were any training sessions during the time they were there.

“He got an email back and unfortunat­ely there was no training in the time frame, but they said If I was interested I was to send in a resume and a video.”

In March, Lesic and her father did just that. In June, after Lesic was named MVP of the St. Mary’s High School team, they updated her resume and sent it to the team.

“A month later the next email was asking If I would be interested in coming to the camp and they said if I could get to Croatia they would take care of everything else,” said Lesic.

She left on Aug. 13 and participat­ed in the weeklong camp attended by 20 players and three goaltender­s. She said she was the only player who does not live in Croatia. “Some of these girls come from the bigger cities in Croatia so the coach goes and watches them play and picks girls out from their games so I was really honoured to be coming all the way from here to get an invitation like this.”

The centre midfielder started playing soccer when she was three and has always played for the Kitchener Soccer Club. She said both of her parents played so soccer has been passed down as a family sport.

She currently plays on the Kitchener U17 girls academy team; she has been a part of the academy since U13.

The academy offers high-level training above the current rep level program and is tailored for elite athletes who are committed to year-round training to help bring their game to the next level.

It is led by Mario Halapir, who is also the head coach of the Wilfrid Laurier University men’s varsity soccer team.

He has received many awards as a coach and has led teams to national and provincial titles. Prior to coaching he played in the Canadian Soccer League.

Lesic said being a part of the academy has been amazing and prepared her for the training she did in Croatia. She said Halapir was very helpful as he had advice for her since he has sent players to Europe before.

“It’s really good training and everything we do is really profession­al,” said Lesic. “Mario is a really good coach and has really good soccer sense and he teaches us everything we need to know.”

Lesic said she was nervous going into the camp as she had never seen the Croatian team play. But once she noticed that they were doing the same drills she does with her team at the academy, she felt less stressed.

“To go and see that a national team is doing the same drills that we do made me feel really comfortabl­e and made me fit in with them,” said Lesic.

Lesic said there were two training sessions a day and at the end of the camp they had the opportunit­y to play against the U19 Croatian National team, losing by a score of only 2-1.

Although the drills were similar, new for her was how intense the team dynamic was. The team had a head coach, assistant coach, goalkeeper coach, a doctor and a physiother­apist, and a photograph­er was with the group at all times.

“We all travelled together in a bus to the practice and back and it was really strict like that,” said Lesic. “We had to wear the exact same clothes, even socks and shoes … it was really interestin­g to be there and experience that.”

Lesic said after attending the camp she understand­s the intensity of higher-level play. She said it also prepared her for the possibilit­y of playing university soccer in a year, where she would have a close-knit team she would travel with.

She said the opportunit­y opened doors for her as she is still in direct contact with the coach regarding the possibilit­y of joining the U17 Croatian national team roster. However, FIFA regulation­s require her to have a Croatian citizenshi­p first.

“We started the process and we don’t know how long it will take,” said Lesic. “The sooner I get it, the sooner I can go back for another training camp and I could even go with them to Euro qualificat­ions if I get this in time.”

As she enters Grade 12, she is striving to reach her goal of making a university soccer team, as well as playing on the U17 Croatian team.

Since the training in Croatia is sporadic, she said she could still live and play soccer in Canada as well.

 ?? COURTESY OF NIKOLINA LESIC ?? Nikolina Lesic dribbles the ball at a training camp for the Croatian under-17 team.
COURTESY OF NIKOLINA LESIC Nikolina Lesic dribbles the ball at a training camp for the Croatian under-17 team.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada