May 15, 2003
By Blake Twisselman
The Santa Clara
The successful movie "Bend It Like Beckham" has given the Santa Clara women's soccer program more exposure than they would have ever thought possible.
The movie's main character, Jess Bhamra, is an Indian girl living in London who dreams of playing soccer like her idol David Beckham. Her strict parents constantly attempt to discourage her from playing soccer so she can focus on learning traditional Sikh custom. After numerous conflicts with her parents, Jess and her fellow teammate Jules realize their dreams of playing collegiate soccer and accept a scholarship to play at none other than Santa Clara University.
"In 1999, one of the producers contacted me about using SCU in the movie," said Santa Clara Head Coach Jerry Smith. "At the time I didn't think it would turn into anything, but it has turned into a very popular movie in Europe and now here in the U.S."
Smith believes that the producers chose Santa Clara University based on the program's success in the late 1990s.
"When they were considering which school to pick, we happened to be ranked number one in the country. Given that we're a great university located in California, I think it was a slam dunk."
The release of the film has reinforced the prestige of Santa Clara women's soccer as one of the nation's elite programs to millions of people worldwide. The impact of the movie is being felt outside of the soccer program too.
"The movie is great exposure and promotion for women's soccer and for SCU," said Athletic Director Cheryl Levick. "I have received phone calls and emails from all across the nation. It is great for recruiting to our campus."
Junior midfielder/forward Veronica Zepeda agrees.
"I think the reference to SCU in the movie is awesome for not only the soccer program but for the university as well."
The vast international success of the film has already sparked the interest of some soccer players in Europe. Santa Clara University has noticed a tremendous increase in emails from interested European players who have traditionally only been recruited by universities on the East Coast. Through the years, there have been a few European players who have had very successful collegiate careers in America, however Santa Clara has never had the resources in the past to recruit internationally.
"We've yet to recruit a foreign player in my 17 years here," said Smith. "We don't have a budget that will allow us to recruit in Europe, and typically I like to meet the potential recruits to watch them play and talk to their coaches before we consider offering anyone a scholarship. That's extremely difficult to do with European players. What I'm really happy about is that SCU is getting more exposure than we've ever gotten before. It can only be a positive thing for SCU soccer."
In addition to the overwhelming publicity from "Bend It Like Beckham," the women's soccer program continued their positive momentum earlier this month as Soccer America magazine named the Broncos' incoming recruiting class tops in the nation.
Although these incoming recruits signed before the release of the movie, the successful recruiting period can be greatly attributed to the Broncos recent success, including first and second place national finishes in the last two seasons.
The Broncos are returning all of the starters from the 2002 team except star midfielders Aly Wagner and Devvyn Hawkins. The incoming recruits include four high school All-Americans who have all played for the National Youth Team, and Smith believes that all six of the newcomers will challenge for starting spots next year.
"This ranks as one of the best two recruiting classes we've ever had. The other was the 1996 recruiting class, and they made the final four all four years and produced five WUSA players. This class has that kind of potential. We've set ourselves up for a promising future."
With the growing success of "Bend It Like Beckham" generating intrigue in potential prospects across the world, coupled with the nation's top incoming recruiting class, the future couldn't look any brighter for the Santa Clara women's soccer program.
For more information on "Bend It Like Beckham," click here.