May 24, 2002
By Wade Buckland
When freshmen soccer players Jessica Ballweg and Leslie Osborne talk, opposing teams listen. Each speaks with a strong accent and has attracted the attention of the West Coast Conference, Women's United Soccer Association and other international squads. It is not their respective New Jersey and Wisconsin accents that frighten opponents; it is their ability to connect with the ball on the field. In the language of soccer, that translates into success. "She's always playing me balls because I'm up top [at forward] and she's a defender," said Osborne. "We just have this connection. I know how she plays. She knows how I play. We just click."
Last year's success with the women's team was not the first time Ballweg and Osborne have won together and it will not be the last. After helping the team to the school's first national championship, the pair continues their success at the international level.
As starters for the U.S. Under-19 National Team, Ballweg and Osborne have their minds set on winning the first ever Women's FIFA U-19 World Championship this summer, which will be held in Canada from Aug. 17 through Sept. 1. A tough field of 12 countries, including Australia, England and Chinese Taipei will battle the U.S. for the cup.
Ballweg and Osborne have been crucial members of their U-19 team. In the qualifying tournament for the World Championship held May 7 through May 11 in Tobago, the pair helped their team outscore its three opponents 34-1 and earn a bid to the main event.
Although the U-19 women's team is filled with veteran players like Ballweg and Osborne, it has had to practice and travel extensively in preparation for both the qualifier and the world championship. The competition at the world championship should be high and previous wins do not count in the upcoming tournament.
"We think we got a good draw, but we don't really know because we haven't played against any of these teams," said Osborne.
Due to their commitment to the U-19 team and their effort to win the world championship, both Ballweg and Osborne decided to forego their spring quarter at Santa Clara after having missed five weeks of the winter quarter because of traveling.
The U-19 team will practice all summer and if it advances to the world title game, Ballweg and Osborne will miss the first Santa Clara game of the season.
"We miss Stanford so that sucks," said Osborne. "We actually come home September 2nd and play Notre Dame that next weekend. We have four days off."
Ballweg and Osborne hope the sacrifices pay off.
"There's no way any [other U-19 national] team has worked harder than us," said Osborne. "We have been doing our fitness and manual training programs for a year and a half. There have been so many different teams - national teams, pro teams and men's teams - that we've played. I think it will pay off in the end."
Before coming to Santa Clara and beginning their journey to a world championship, Ballweg and Osborne met and perfected their complementary style of play through the U.S. youth national program, a feeder to the full U.S. national team.
"I remember when we played on the Under-16 team together," said Ballweg. "I didn't know her because she was from Wisconsin and I was from Jersey. But right off the bat, we just connected, just like how Danielle [Slaton] and Aly [Wagner] connect. We just see it."
For Santa Clara last season, the connection between Ballweg and Osborne helped the Broncos succeed all season. Ballweg finished with four goals and six assists while Osborne ended the season with 13 goals and 17 assists.
With years of connecting on the field and the college championship season behind them, Ballweg and Osborne will represent not only Santa Clara but also the United States in Canada this summer.
"It's not only history and tradition but we want to prove to everybody how good [our team] is," said Osborne.
"I'm more exited than nervous," said Ballweg. "I'm waiting for some intense games with crowds and good competition. It's just really cool knowing you're representing your country. And [the U.S.] is one of the best in the world."