One way to beat the Texas summer heat is to kick a soccer ball and be pretty good at it.
Carroll sophomore midfielder Alli Gardner is getting out of Texas later this month because she really is good at kicking a soccer ball.
Well, that’s probably simplifying it too much. Gardner is part of her select soccer team, Dallas Texans, which will be playing in the Elite Club National League regional tournament June 26-29 in Seattle. Should her team advance, it would play in the national tournament July 13-17 in Richmond, Va.
Gardner definitely will be a different player than what she was for the Lady Dragons six months ago. In January, the then-freshman became a focal point of the Carroll offense as an attacking midfielder. On her club team, she plays more of a defensive type of midfielder.
The transition from playing one type of midfielder to another wasn’t really that difficult, especially when you have a good feel for the game. But other elements factored into the season that became challenging.
“It was a hard transition year,” Gardner said. “It’s a different type of game. When you get to that level, there’s more pressure because you have so many people counting on you. That’s a lot different than select.”
But Carroll coach Matt Colvin made the move because he trusted Gardner’s ability to move the ball. He said he recognized how comfortable she would be when she is in traffic. He wasn’t worried about what it looked like in January. He was more interested in how it would look in March and April, when games mattered. Gardner responded with eight goals, including three game-winners, as Carroll (23-2-1) advanced to the Class 5A Region I championship before falling to eventual state champion Hebron.
“My technical ability grew through the year,” she said. “I was cleaner and just more comfortable with the ball. I just learned that there were going to be times where I was going to dribble and not give it up. I had to take my space. But at the same time I also had a better feel for passing lanes and getting the ball up the field.”
Size also matters. Gardner took advantage of her 5-10 frame. She realized that it was an advantage and that she could dominate most matchups.
That’s also what the University of Arkansas’ women’s soccer team thought. Gardner committed to Arkansas within the last several months. An unofficial visit to Fayetteville, Ark., sold her.
“I went to Arkansas and had 10 boxes to check on things l was looking for in a school,” Gardner said. “I checked off all 10 with Arkansas. The staff is amazing. The school is beautiful. I can’t wait to get up there.”
The good news for Carroll is that her move to college is three years away. Time should also reveal how much she continues to grow as a player and a leader. The Lady Dragons should be in the Class 6A state championship conversation on a yearly basis.
“It was an incredible year,” Gardner said. “I had so much and learned so many different things about the game. I just want to use my summer to keep playing and training at a high level so I can be ready next year.”