Teenaged Monica Lam-Feist is a rising star for Canada
Not many high school students had a better summer job than Monica Lam-Feist this year.
Flipping burgers, scanning groceries, counselling homesick campers, keeping an eye on the deep end of the pool - none of these teenaged summer pursuits were on the menu for Lam-Feist.
Nope, instead she spent the summer months jetting around North America competing with the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team in the W-League. When she wasn't busy with that, she kept herself busy training with Canada's National Under-20 team.
Competing with and against women - some of whom are more than twice her age - is not something new for Lam- Feist. She's been doing it since she was 12.
"I like it, I'm pretty used to it now," the 17-year-old South Surrey resident said. "It's just kind of the same old thing I guess. I really don't get intimidated by it at all because I've played with most of these girls over the years. I'm really comfortable playing with them.
"When I first started in the national program with older players I was definitely intimidated but not so much anymore."
Not only has she been playing an age level or two above her birth certificate for the past five years, she's thrived in the more competitive environment.
The central midfielder helped the Whitecaps Reserve Team to an undefeated record in the 2007 Pacific Coast Soccer League season, after which she was honoured as the Canadian U-17 Female Player of the Year and British Columbia Female Youth Player of the Year.
Chris Murphy, who coached Lam-Feist with Surrey Youth Soccer's Metro teams as well as the provincial program, said the secret to her success isn't complicated.
"The thing with her, as it is with almost every top player, is she loves the game and she loves to play," Murphy said. "She works really hard to polish her skills on her own time, just practising the skills of the game. She does it because she loves to have the ball at her feet and she's not afraid to take a risk to get even better. I've coached a lot of players and only a few have that special mindset."
Lam-Feist's dedication to her sport was demonstrated in her two seasons with the Whitecaps. After spending the 2007 season with the reserve team, Lam-Feist came back in the spring of 2008 and earned a place on the main team. All this before she has graduated from high school.
"I always want to play at the highest level," she said. "Soccer is still fun for me and I'm loving it so I have no complaints. Playing at the highest level is a great experience for me and it's really good for my confidence. When you play with players like that, you're always under pressure to maintain that level of play and keep improving."
After the Whitecaps were bounced from the playoffs with a loss to Seattle at the end of July, Lam-Feist promptly focused all of her attention on Canada's U-20 team.
The sting of the Whitecaps loss was tempered by the knowledge she would be a part of the Canadian entry at the 2008 Under-20 Women's World Cup in Chile beginning next month. Canada clinched a spot by winning the CONCACAF zone with a 1-0 victory over the United States in Mexico at the end of June.
"That was a pretty big deal," Lam-Feist recalled. "When we won I think I cried forever."
To accommodate her commitment to the national team program, Lam-Feist has had to make sacrifices most teenaged girls would find unthinkable. The Sullivan Heights student has switched to an online schooling program as she spends the autumn months training with Canada's finest.
"I'm trying to do my best, but it's a bit difficult right now," she said. "It's hard to find time to do my work between practices and when we have days off. I don't get to see my friends much, especially since we've moved into residency in Vancouver. All my friends are in South Surrey so I don't get to see them, but whenever we have breaks, I like to go back so we can catch up with everyone.
"I understand it though; this is a choice I've made."
When the World Cup is over, Lam-Feist plans to return to Sullivan Heights so she can graduate with her friends. After that, she will be heading to the University of Wisconsin on a soccer scholarship beginning in the fall of 2009.
But that's all in the distant future. For now, the main focus is what awaits Lam-Feist and her Canadian teammates in Chile next month.
"There's going to be a lot of quality teams there," she said. "It's going to be a hard tournament but we've been training a lot. I think we have a chance against any team on any day."
Thanks to her summer job, Lam-Feist will be up for the challenge.
© Surrey Now 2008