- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Ex-SMAC player continues playing internationally; joined by La Plata’s Walker
By JAMES A. McCRAY III
“For me, it’s just awesome that I get to continue my career and continue to give back.”
Leonardtown High School 2006 graduate and former Raiders’ girls soccer standout Heather Cooke continues to give back to her mother’s native country of the Philippines, but not in the form of mission trips and donations, but through the sport of soccer.
Cooke continues to play with the Malditas women’s national soccer team, but in continuing her career, she has found a new goal to go alongside of playing soccer on an international level; to help take the American game to the Philippines.
“I have been gifted with the talent of soccer and now I can give back to my mom’s country and to people that I really care about,” Cooke said.
The 2005 All-County and All-SMAC Most Outstanding Player begin playing internationally with Malditas last fall during the Association of South East Asian Nations Football Federation women’s world championships.
Now, Cooke has not only continued playing with the team, which is currently in Los Angeles, California for a training camp and soccer tournament, but has been with the team in the Philippines from July through mid-November teaching the game of soccer.
“They are just a little behind, soccer-wise,” Cooke admitted, “because they start playing in high school. I started playing when I was 4 years old. So, I have probably been playing soccer three times as long as some of the players.”
Cooke admits that the team is building and continues to build through camps and international tournaments, but enjoys being around her due to her knowledge of the game.
“For me, I just have, probably, the most experience on the team,” Cooke explained. “The most experience as far as being exposed to the best coaches and the best training available. There are also other Division I players, too, so they are on the same level as me. But, I definitely bring the American game to the Philippines. It’s much needed there because soccer is very new.”
The Loyola University graduate has also enjoyed this go-round with the Malditas team because she has made a position switch to a familiar, yet, old one moving back to the forward position from her center back position played in college. Cooke has not played offense since her Leonardtown days.
“It was nice to be on offense,” Cooke admitted.
Being back on offense has already paid dividends for the now international player as she scored her first international goal and eventually her first international hat trick in October of this year during the ASEAN Football Federation Women’s Championship tournament in Vietnam.
“It went very well,” Cooke added about being back on offense.
Cook and Malditas just wrapped up its first-ever American training camp in California, inviting American players to train and tryout for the team in helping them prepare for the LA Viking Cup, a California-based tournament that will include two California-based teams, Cooke’s team and a team from Trinidad & Tobago and will run from today through Dec. 1.
“It’s a very interesting situation for us,” Cooke said. “Some of the girls have never been to America and we’re not bringing our entire team because a lot of them are in college right now or working and weren’t able to come over.”
One of the players that received an invite is current Loyola University women’s soccer player and La Plata resident Deja Walker, a player Cooke is familiar with due to the SMAC conference and college-team ties.
“I know her,” Cooke said of Walker. “She goes to my alma mater, of course, too. … I approached her last year because my coach found out she was half-Filipino. I was talking to her about it and at first, her parents were a bit skeptical about getting the citizenship because it is a long process.
“At that point, they didn’t know, but then, I was excited to hear that she was going to be able to come to the tournament and for the exhibitions in L.A.”
But even with the traveling and tournaments and training camps, Cooke, an international business major, continues to believe that something bigger is taking place with her involvement with the international team.
“In my life right now, it’s the most important thing to me,” Cooke said.