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April 24, 2008

Rising junior defender Blakely Mattern recently was invited to participate in the United State U-20 Women’s National Team Camp, held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. After returning from the week-long experience, Mattern (Simpsonville, S.C.) sat down with to talk about the experience, Coach DiCicco, flight problems and Weinerschnitzel’s. She also spoke about being honored as South Carolina’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year, an award she won last Monday after a season in which she became the first sophomore to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and also became the first Gamecock to earn All-America honors. How was your overall experience at the U20 camp?

It was pretty much awesome, in one word. Besides the whole time change, it was a lot of fun. We started practicing right away on Saturday when I got there. Right after that we usually had a training session in the morning for two hours and a training session in the afternoon for two hours unless we played a game that day. In that case we would just have a game. One game we played was against a club team from California, and we also played UCLA and Long Beach State. It was really good. There were about 33 or 34 girls out there. I became close with about five or six of them.

Who were some of the others that you became close with?

Kelli Corless, who plays for Georgia. I guess in the fall we won’t really be that close though! She and I got really close and we may play on a club team in the summer. My roommate was Brittney Macdonald from Miami. There was a girl named Liz Harkin from Arizona State. There were just a lot of great girls there.

Tony DiCicco was the head coach; how did you like his style of coaching?

He was awesome. He’s a really good guy. It’s a lot different than Jamie and Shelley here, but obviously that level is all business all the time. You don’t really joke around, especially since they’re searching for a team to qualify with. He knows the game of soccer and has been around that level of play for years. He’s good and is not afraid to tell you what he thinks which I respected a lot. He tells you what you’re doing well and tells you when you need to work on something. Tom Stone was our assistant coach. He used to be an assistant at Clemson, and I guess he saw me play and now he’s out there. That was cool having someone that knew who I was.




What are some of the things you learned about the way you play?

In my meeting, Coach DiCicco let me know that he likes how I play out of the back. I’m not very direct as in I don’t kick the ball a lot forward just trying to kick it. I like to play soccer, and passing and keeping it away is something they really liked about my game. I also learned a lot about my mental toughness. In the middle of the week, I was pretty tired. My legs were getting very tired and sore, so I had to pull through towards the end of the week. Tony kept saying he was looking for players to emerge that weren’t just good on the first day of camp but were playing consistently towards the end of camp. I really learned about myself and what I can get through with my body. I actually felt that I got better as the camp went along. He said I’m a consistent player, which I hope is something that my teammates here think about me too.

You flew out of Columbia and I heard you had an interesting story. What happened on your way to California?

My flights were interesting. On the way out, I had a 6 am flight out of Columbia to O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Then I had about an hour layover and then I had a flight from there to L.A. I left about 6 am and got in at about 10:30 am L.A. time. On the way back I pretty much had a nightmare of a time trying to get back. I flew out of L.A. at around 12:50 pm, which I barely caught. I had to run through LAX to make my flight. Then I had a five-hour flight in the middle seat of a three-row on the side. I sat in the middle seat for five hours barely able to move, heading into Washington Dulles airport. Since my first flight sat on the runway for a while with problems, I arrived in Washington at 9:30 pm with my connection to Columbia leaving at 10 pm, so I had to run through Washington airport and got in at about midnight to Columbia. That was another experience that taught me a lot. I had flown before with family on vacation, but it was the second time flying by myself. The first time was just from Columbia to Albany (N.Y.) so it wasn’t a big deal. This was my first time having to make a connection and LAX is the biggest airport I’ve seen in my life. That was an experience. I had never gotten to an airport and had to carry my luggage through security because it was too late to check my bags.

But the weather was awesome. It didn’t rain once. It was pleasantly warm. There was a nice breeze every day. The only day it was extremely hot was the last day. That was the day we played a full game against Long Beach. I played for 90 minutes in that long heat, and I was pretty much dead after Saturday, but every other day was nice. We had one day off on Wednesday. I went out to the beach and took a jog and actually got to go into the water. That was my first time seeing a beach on the Pacific Ocean.

Was the water cold?

It was freezing. I was out there and couldn’t not go in the water. I had to experience it. It was fun. I think we were the only crazy people in the water.

How was the Home Depot Center?

The Home Depot Center is like soccer heaven. You drive in and I saw it far away. I just saw lights. You drive in and kind of turn up a hill and it’s kind of like driving down Magnolia Lane. There are trees and four lanes and you drive in to see soccer fields. Then straight ahead down the road you see this huge stadium that says `Home Depot Center’. The fields are like playing on carpet but better. I guess that’s kind of bad though because if you have a bad touch you can’t blame it on the grass. At first it was a little intimidating because you drive in and look at the poles and see pictures of David Beckham and Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach. We didn’t actually go into the actual Depot stadium but everything about it was perfect. The nets were as white as anything and it was awesome. We stayed at a Doubletree Hotel. I had never heard of one before but apparently they are very popular up there. They had homemade cookies that for 24 hours were free. I pretty much ate about 20 of them while I was out there because they were good. I will definitely miss that! I also saw a Weinerschnitzel, the first time I’ve seen one of those. There’s a lot of stuff out there that I’ve never seen before.

One last thing: Monday night you were honored by the Athletics Department as the Co-Female Athlete of the Year. What did it mean to you to get that honor in front of your peers?

Last night at the Gamecock Gala was a night I will not forget for the rest of my life. I remember thinking to myself as I heard the nominations being announced, “Wow what a talented group of athletes.” It really is an honor to even be nominated for such an award with those girls. To be honest, my dream growing up playing soccer was just to get the chance to play for a Division I school, and now to be honored as the Female Athlete of the Year for this university is beyond anything I could have imagined. It is just an incredible feeling.

Our team worked extremely hard last year and had such a tremendous season. I would not have received this award if it wasn’t for our success together and my teammates and coaches help, and for them to be sitting next to me last night was a great feeling. Also, I actually did not know that my parents would be at the Gala last night. They kept that a secret and surprised me last night. But for them to be there for me and see me accept the award in front of all those wonderful athletes and coaches was so special. After all their support as I was growing up and throughout my career, it meant the world to me to have them there with me.