THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
On the bubble.
That’s how Montgomery High School senior Taylor Ziemer describes her position within the pool of American soccer players vying for a regular spot on the U18 Women’s National team. This, despite being invited to seven national team camps, including the trip to Mexico City earlier this month for matches against Mexico’s U20 team.
“I don’t think I have performed to the best of my ability yet. I’m not comfortably in,” she said. “I think it’s kind of like ‘Damn it, I want to get to that point.’ It’s definitely a motivator. I want to get in, I want to get to the U20 World Cup.”
This “I’m not there yet” attitude is coming from one of the most dominant high school players seen in the Empire in years, a player named Gatorade State Girls Soccer Player of the Year and recently named TopDrawerSoccer.com Fall All-American.
When I told U18 Womens National team head coach April Heinrichs that Ziemer described herself as “on the bubble” with the national program, she paused.
“That’s not a term I have used with her,” she said.
“It’s such a great answer on her part,” she said. “It tells me she’s not ashamed of it. It’s self-evaluation, using it as a motivator for herself.”
Motivation is not something Ziemer is lacking.
A student who carries a 4.2 grade point average and earned a full ride to play soccer at the University of Virginia — the team that finished second to Florida State in last fall’s college finals — Ziemer has made every conceivable move to better her soccer game.
She plays on the Santa Rosa United U17 Freeze team that made the final eight of the Elite Clubs National League finals last month and spends her summer playing with the Wave of the Women’s Premier Soccer League. She also plays for the U17 United boys team coached by her dad, Marcus Ziemer, the veteran Sonoma State men’s coach.
“It is so much quicker, the boys are so much better,” Taylor said. “It’s a great challenge and it’s good of me to have to fight for a spot. There is a chance of failure.”
“People don’t always understand the effort and time you put in,” she added. “Great players are born. It takes so much time, so much effort.”
Is it too much soccer? Ziemer doesn’t even pause. No.
“I don’t even know what I would do without soccer,” she said. “It’s my life.”
And it’s been that way seemingly from birth.
Simply put: The Ziemers are a soccer family. Marcus Ziemer is in his 25th season at SSU. Mom Trish is a former All-Far West player for Santa Clara University who has coached with United since 1992, winning five State Cup championships. Taylor Ziemer’s uncles are deeply rooted in the game as are her two siblings, Thomas and Tera, the latter of which is a sophomore at Montgomery and a key piece of the Vikings soccer machine.
“I think her coachability is really a tribute to her soccer parents,” Heinrichs said. “She’s open to feedback, she asks for feedback. She does self-evaluate. She’s thinking about the game on a tactical level. And she knows that it takes steps and knows that it takes patience.”
Ziemer is clear that although she’s been reared in a soccer family, her world is by her design.
“I want to play for the national team. I want to try and win a World Cup,” she said. “I am trying to play for as long as I can. I want to try to have that be my job.”
Meantime, she’s got some business to attend to locally.
Last week marked the start of Ziemer’s senior campaign with the Vikings, a run that has seen her get 68 career goals and 36 assists in three seasons. But it has also seen a Vikings team unable as yet to unseat the Maria Carrillo Pumas from the top spot in both the North Bay League and the North Coast Section.
Montgomery has not beaten Maria Carrillo since Ziemer suited up for the Vikings, something that might be hard to forget because so many of Ziemer’s Freeze teammates and friends play for the Pumas.
“I’m good friends with those girls, there is no tension or anything,” she said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not really that important. It’s more of a pride thing, for the school and for Pat (McDonald, the Vikings coach). We have worked really hard.”
McDonald said it’s obvious that the Montgomery program has been lucky to have a talent like Ziemer on the roster. Her skills are so prodigious that at times it looks as if she’s trying to do everything on the field. But Ziemer said she will look to teammates Jordan Girman, Taylor Fager, Regan Connell and Heidi Heller to shine this fall. And, as was the case last season, Ziemer will rely heavily on sister Tera to elevate the Vikings’ game.
“Some kids as good as her tend to have a little bit of swagger. She’s got that but as soon as she walks off the field, around everyone at Montgomery, she’s just a normal kid,” McDonald said.
Heinrichs, like McDonald, says that playing college soccer will take Ziemer’s already considerable game to an even higher level.
“College will be a key ingredient for Taylor,” Heinrichs said. “She comes from a background right now that is not as competitive as other pockets of the country. Getting her in an environment where they are repeating and refining technically will help her tremendously.”
Other pieces of the puzzle Ziemer has in the bag.
“She has love and passion for the game, very coachable,” Heinrichs said. “She’s gritty.”
And Heinrichs mentioned multiple times that she just plain likes the kid’s attitude.
“She’s a big personality,” Heinrichs said. “She’s only going up. I don’t see this kid going off to college and burning out her first or second year. That happens. I see her thriving in college.”
It doesn’t hurt Ziemer’s master plan that Virginia’s head coach Steve Swanson is an assistant coach with the U.S. Women’s National Team that just won the World Cup.
“He has connections,” Ziemer said. “He knows what I need to get there, has real experience in the subject.”
And, Ziemer said, “I watched the way they played, and they play great soccer. It was the kind of soccer I want to be playing.”
But first, there is the soccer Montgomery will be playing this season — Ziemer’s last hurrah in a Vikings uniform.
“I told her to have fun with it,” McDonald said. “This is the place — before her life gets pretty dang serious.”
However Ziemer’s career shakes out, McDonald said her game, and her personality, have earned supporters.
“I will be a personal fan of hers from here on out,” McDonald said. “We are all rooting for her.”
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or email@example.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.