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Sophomore forward Kayla Grimsley recently was invited to participate in the United States U-20 Women’s National Team Camp, held March 14-20 in Gainesville, Fla. It was the first time Grimsley was invited to the national team camp, and she impressed the coaching staff to the point that the Lakeland, Fla. native was asked to return in mid-April for a second training camp to be held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The team is preparing and making cuts for the U20 Women’s World Cup that will take place in Germany this summer. After returning from her first camp, Grimsley sat down with to talk about the experience, what she learned from the camp and what she expects after being asked to return next month. Below is the entire transcript.

Tell me about your overall experience at the U-20 National Team Camp.
It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced to be honest. The transition from high school to club to college is a big difference. When you come from college to the U20 national team, it’s an even bigger difference. It’s high speed intensity all the time, 24-7. It’s a competition to see who gets down to breakfast first, or to see who gets out to practice first. It’s always a competition. You’re always being watched no matter what you do. Overall it was just incredible to be at. It was a good learning experience to help myself get better as a player and also bring some things back to the team and help us as a team.

You traveled down at the University of Florida in Gainesville. For you was it like an extended spring break?
It took place the week after spring break so two weeks away from Columbia which is both good and bad. It was a good thing that it didn’t take over my spring break but also a bad thing because I missed a week of school. I didn’t really get a spring break because it was down to business the whole time, but this is our life so I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

Were you able to get close to any other girls?
I know a few girls on the team from the Florida state ODP team. There were a couple of girls that play for Florida State that I hung out with a lot. I met people from all over the country. There were girls from the west coast – UCLA and Stanford – that I kind of got close to. Mainly I just stayed with the girls that I knew just to make my stay a little more comforting. I branched out the last few days, but mainly just the FSU girls I’ve always been friends with.

Tell me about Jillian Ellis, the U20 Coach.
She’s awesome. I’ve been to a couple of these camps before and it almost feels like an interview. It feels like you’re being criticized for things you do and you’re being watched for the little things that don’t really matter. With her it’s more laid back. She wants to see who you are. She doesn’t want to see who they want you to be. She watches you at lunch but it’s more to see how you interact with the girls and what you interact about. She has a different mindset than most of the coaches. She understands the game really well. She was looking at me in positions I’m really good at. She just let me play. You come into these things as a new person and they put you in the back a little and not allow you a chance. She put me in the front, let me play and let me expose myself to her. Her being a west coast coach, to see me (in the past) would have been a little difficult, but after she saw me we had a conversation and she said it’s about time I’ve seen you. The way she coaches is exactly the way I play.

Did they play you more as a midfielder?
Yeah they play with really tall, fast forwards. I’m quick but I’m not their speed and I’m obviously not their size. She put me more as an attacking center mid. (They) looked a little bit at the defensive center mid, but she saw that I’m a goal scorer so she put me at attacking center mid. I think it worked out great because I was able to work with the other fast forwards they have there as well as kind of do my own thing back in the midfield.

What did you learn about Kayla Grimsley the player after the week of training?
I learned a lot as a person and as a player. As a player I learned that they don’t really take into affect the amount of mistakes you make but the severity of them. They understand that you’re going to make mistakes in the game, and it’s how you react to making those mistakes. I learned that it’s not always about score, score, score, score, score all the time. It’s about reevaluating the situation and starting over. Me as a player, I normally will skin you and go, but she wanted me to take a step back, look and have a shot from a distance, have a shot from ’18 rather than look up and try to do too much. I learned I don’t have to do so much. I can just calm down and feed off balls to other people and let it happen.

How did the process of you getting invited come about?
I credit that to Jamie and Shelley a lot. Coming in here Jamie and Shelley both had really high expectations for me. Being brought into U18 camps, I was putting my name on the map. After freshman year I did pretty well but I don’t think I did up to the standards of a national team. Coming into this year Jamie and Shelley sat me down and said, `You know this is your year. You have a lot to prove and a lot of people to prove it to, so just go out and do what we know you can do.’ After having a pretty successful year and us as a team getting exposed, it opened a lot of people’s minds to my name as well as my school’s name. Jamie was in their faces calling them all the time saying, `Get her in, get her in, get her in. If you just get her in and let her play, you’ll see.’ I got a phone call a couple of days before spring break that said `we’re inviting you, can you come, can you not’? I said absolutely. It was mainly Jamie and Shelley saying we’ll bring her to your attention and you can take it from there. A lot of credit (goes) to them.

I hear you’re invited back to camp in April. What were your thoughts when you were invited to go back for another go?
The first word I thought of was “finally” to be honest. I go to all these things and the coaches say `you impressed me, you did this and that’ and they give me one or two things to work on, and then I never hear from them again. I was just hoping that wouldn’t happen again this time. Jill (Ellis) sat me down at the last day of camp and said there’s two things I need from a player: one, for you to gel with the team, and two, for you to impress me. She looked at me and said we want you to come to L.A. in April. It was a big relief because I got hurt at the camp the second day and had to sit out a couple of days. I thought that would hurt my performance, but after playing and her allowing me to play, she told me I was coming back. I knew I had it in me, and I’m finally glad that the people that are doing these teams are finally starting to see it.

You get to play at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Have you ever been there or played there?
Absolutely not. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully maybe David Beckham will be out there recovering shirtless! I’m just excited to be in the environment. I’m from California originally, so going back to my roots will be kind of exciting. Just to be able to play in an environment that’s huge like the Home Depot Center that everyone knows about and wants to be at, and to play in a stadium that fits hundreds of thousands of people is insane.

When you go back in April, what kind of goals will you have for yourself?
When I left the first camp in Gainesville, Jill told me to work on my long range shooting and that we’ll have a fitness test the second day we get there. Basically this week is a recovery for my ankle week and a rest week. Starting next week I’m going to work on my fitness a lot as well as my long range shooting. I’ll just get better in areas that I think I need to work on. The two main ones are my fitness and long range shooting.

One of the teams you played during the training was the Atlanta Beat. One of your former teammates Blakely Mattern was there. What was it like to see one of your teammates playing for a professional team here in America?
Incredible. Blakely is one of those people that you want to see do well regardless. She’s worked so hard to get where she is. I was talking to a couple of girls that have been on the national team for a while. One of the girls was Katy Frierson from Auburn. The Atlanta Beat played Auburn this year and Katie said Blakely played almost 90 minutes and was one of their best defenders. The Beat still has to make one more cut to make, and just seeing Blakely out there, she didn’t get in that game and hopefully for good reasons, but seeing her supporting her future teammates was incredible. Blakely’s always that encouraging person. She looked at me and said, `Kayla you were incredible. You’re doing great.’ She was looking at me and giving me support even though we were playing her team. That’s something that Blakely’s known for doing.