Hong Tran knows that being clutch is a prerequisite for being a good goalkeeper.
Tran, a junior goalie for Gainesville High, stands alert with her heart beating a mile-a-minute and hands clinched in anticipation when the ball comes flying in her direction; her body the only thing separating the ball from the back of the net.
“I love playing goalkeeper and making that save and starting and finishing the point of attack,” Tran said.
She made quite a few big saves for the Lady Red Elephants this season. In addition to seven shutouts, Tran also made a pair of last-minute saves in the final minute against Flowery Branch, leading to a Gainesville win in penalty kicks. She also led the Lady Red Elephants to their first win against North Hall in four years with a last-minute save en route to a 1-0 victory.
“I think everyone on the team plays a little harder knowing that she’s back there,” Gainesville coach Mark Wade said.
For her efforts, Tran is The Times 2010 Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
However, Tran also learned that being visible to college coaches takes much more than what is achieved solely on the high school field. She has thrown herself head first into soaking up as much knowledge as possible about the position and gaining credibility that she’s a good investment for a college scholarship.
Just last week, Tran took part in a goalkeepers camp at Southern Polytechnic in Marietta. She had the opportunity to pick the brains of North Georgia College & State University assistant coach Jonathan Harvey, University of Cincinnati assistant coach Rachel Ray, and Ron Apollon — one of the state’s most well-regarded goalie coaches — about the position and learn what coaches at the next level look for. More than anything else, Tran learned not to get discouraged that Division-I schools aren’t knocking down her door to get her enrolled after high school.
“I had been set on going big,” Tran said. “But they told me just to keep going.
“I want to find a school with a good team, good academics, since they’re paying for my college education, and a good coaching staff.”
On top of the benefits with attending summer camps, Tran’s also learned that playing with a high-level club team is the best way to gain exposure. She got connected last year with a tryout for the Atlanta Fire’s Under-17 girls Premier League Club via Franklin McIntosh, a former professional player who works with local players through the Lanier Soccer Academy.
“That was really big for him to help me out,” Tran said. “He’s not going to lend a hand to just anyone.”
Out of roughly 40 girls to try out for this elite-level program, Tran was one of 18 selected for the club. In fact, she got the call with the good news from Fire coach Andy Trevers while she was at Auburn University attending a camp last summer.
In this league alone, Tran plays around 15 games per season plus many more when you factor in tournament competition.
She says all the time on the road traveling between home and games is well worth it.
“It’s made me a lot better,” Tran said. “It’s shown me that I can’t slack off and it’s really helped me understand the game better.”
That experience has carried back to Gainesville’s program, which now looks at its goalkeeper as a bona fide team leader. When she speaks, they tend to listen. If a player gets discouraged, she’s there with advice and a pat on the back.
“I look up to her a lot,” said Gainesville freshman midfielder Diana Linares. “If we’re losing, she gets the team together and really helps us out a lot.
“And if she sees someone giving up, she’s over there to pick you back up.”
Wade says that Tran’s hustle has a way of masking some other mistakes that transpire over the course of the game. On top of that, he’s got the security of knowing she’ll be guarding the net for one more season for the Lady Red Elephants.
“She’s at her best when she’s leading by example,” Wade said. “She’s a player with natural ability and works really hard.”