NOTE: The Basking Ridge Patch will be following the game this afternoon as local fans cheer on the home team in the match against Japan for the World Cup Title.
Basking Ridge native Tobin Heath is midfielder on the U.S. women's soccer team that heads to the World Cup Final against Japan, to be played Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany.
The game will be televised in a presentation to start at 2 p.m. on ESPN, ESPN3.com and on Galavision, according to the U.S. Women's Soccer website.
Heath was part of Wednesday's 3-1 victory over France that carried the U.S. women's soccer team to its first game in the World Cup final since 1999, the website said.
Rich Shello, athletic director at Ridge High School, late last week recalled that Heath, a 2006 graduate, participated in team soccer during her first three years at the high school. However, she was unable to play for the Ridge team as a senior because by that time she was already involved in professional soccer.
"It's just phenomenal," Shello said of Heath's participation in the World Cup games. He said her name has been coming up in conversation among the high school staff, which he said enjoys seeing a former student have so much success.
Shello recalled Heath as an outstanding player who might have appeared even more so, except that she was a team player who was just as likely to pass the ball to another team member to give that player an opportunity to score.
"We've followed her since she left," Shello said of Heath's post-high school career, which included playing soccer at the University of North Carolina and competing in the Olympics.
Heath played on the team under former Ridge soccer coach Todd Hebden, he said.
Shello said the Heath family was very supportive when their daughter juggled professional soccer and her high school obligations as a senior.
Shello said he recalled a game in which Heath, as a junior, completed a state final championship game for Ridge, and then immediately got on a plane to go to Florida, to play for a national level team.
What began with a little girl's love of kicking the ball around became a professional soccer career for one Ridge alumna.
Heath, who grew up playing soccer in local community programs and graduated from Ridge High School in 2006, talked to the Basking Ridge Patch in January 2010 shortly before she was a top draft choice in the Women's Professional Soccer.
Heath then said she was excited about her transition to professional soccer, even though she does not know exactly where she would end up after the draft.
Although Heath never dreamed of being a professional soccer player as a child, with her college career ending at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she said then she was ready to play at the next level, as a professional, and hoped to continue playing on the national team as well.
On Dec. 23, U.S. Soccer named her Young Female Athlete of the Year Award Winner for 2009, an honor they have been giving for over 20 years.
In December 2009, she won her third national championship with UNC, where she has played throughout her four years of college. She also played this past year on the full Women's National Team, becoming an Olympic gold medalist in 2008 with the U.S. women's soccer team. She has also played in the past on the U-23 women's national team.
But what has become a distinguished collegiate and budding professional career for Heath began when she was just a little girl playing in community programs.
Heath first began playing soccer at age four in the back of the Somerset Hills YMCA. She went on to play on local recreational teams and then for Somerset Hills at age seven. During this time she met her coach, Bernardsville resident Tom Anderson, who continued to coach her through the years to come.
It was Anderson who wanted to create a more competitive club for Heath to play in, so he started a team for the Player's Development Academy. "I still consider him my coach," Heath said.
Heath went on to play on the girls' soccer team at Ridge her first three years of high school.
"It seems like so long ago that I played high school soccer, and I remember that our team was really competitive and it was a really fun experience for me getting to play with all my friends from school," she said.
Heath credits her experiences growing up in the area to her ability to go on to play soccer in college, and soon, professionally.
"I was really fortunate living here in Basking Ridge because New Jersey is actually one of the top states in the country for soccer, specifically women's soccer," she said. "I was given all the resources at a young age to succeed—great teams, great coaches who believed in me and who I'm still connected with today."
She credits the faithfulness and loyalty of her coaches and the level of intense competition in New Jersey in her formation as a player.
"It made me the player I am today because without that driving force it wouldn't have been possible," she said. "I'm just extremely fortunate that I grew up here from a young age, to become the best player I could be."