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Christie Pearce thrilled about experience.

By Gary Davidson

LANDOVER, Md. (Wednesday, June 30, 1999) -- Playing time has become a rare commodity for Christie Pearce, but that doesn't mean the defender isn't enjoying her participation with the U.S. national team in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.

In fact, she said she's having the time of her life. "It's an incredible experience," the graduate of Point Pleasant Boro and Monmouth College said. "I got to play a little bit in the last game, and it was amazing. It's incredible just to be on this team, around and involved in what the veterans are going through. A great experience hopefully for the next World Cup."

Pearce received her first playing time Sunday night, inserted as a substitute for the final 17 minutes of a 3-0 victory against North Korea to close a perfect 3-0 mark in Group A play. Germany is the American quarterfinal opponent here Thursday at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.

"It was amazing," she said of the experience. "It was just such adrenalin. I was like in my own little world, my own little focus. It was like I didn't hear anything once I got on the field, and I just kind of relaxed and just said, 'I worked six months for this. I'm going to go out and have fun.'

"And I totally enjoyed every minute I was out there. On the bench, you are always aware of the crowd and making sure they're getting into the game and seeing what they're doing, but once I got into the game, I wasn't aware of the crowd at all."

Pearce's ascension on the team has been surprising in that she was a striker at Monmouth. Coach Tony DiCicco gave her a shot on defense where she started several games last year when veterans Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett were on maternity leave.

"Athletically, she's probably one of the most athletic people on this team," Overbeck said. "She's very quick, she's fast. She's very good in the air. She's tough. Very rarely does some attacker get in behind her because of her speed 'cause she reads the game so well. When she comes into a game defensively, she gives our attack a spark just because of that attacking mentality she has."

"The way we play in our system, she gets forward on the flank extremely well. I have all the confidence in the world in her. She was called upon in the last game and she came in and did a great job."

DiCicco is particularly impressed with Pearce's athleticism and her positive attitude. "She's one of the nicest people on the team," he said. "She's unassuming, she's caring, she's always got a smile. She's very coachable. She's a joy to coach, quite honestly. And the she could be the best athlete on the team.

"For sure, she is one of the top two or three fastest ... She has a 29-inch vertical (leap). She's come so far in really a short time, considering her lead-up to playing international soccer was nothing like (practically all) of these other players."

Pearce was an three-sport All-State performer in soccer, field hockey and basketball at Point Pleasant Boro and was named New Jersey Female Player of the Year in 1993.

At Monmouth, she played soccer and basketball. She was given a fax by her basketball coach Sue Dekalb on a trip in early 1997 -- inviting her to train at the national team camp.

After the World Cup, Pearce and fellow defender Sara Whalen will take an apartment in Point Pleasant and train together -- including sessions at Good Sports in Wall -- until the national team reconvenes for the 2000 Summer Olympics. The roster for that tournament will have two less players than the 20 carried for the World Cup, making her challenge even greater.

"It was tough just making this roster. It's going be another challenge, six months of training and hard work to make that team. It's always nerve-wracking, but you just have to go out and give it your all. But it's going to be a hard team to make."

Until now almost exclusively a flank player, she has experimented some on the inside, a position she hopes to become comfortable at by "just playing. I have to keep playing, get used to the role, having a lot of 1-v.-1s, 2-v.-2s coming at me, so I get my defensive stance and positioning better.

"Working on that, it's all very new to me, and it's more communicating and talking and organizing, so it's like a step up from playing on the outside."

The U.S. defense has three starters who are 31 -- flank backs Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain, and central defender Carla Overbeck -- and defensive midfielder Michelle Akers is 33.

In the meantime, Pearce is focused on doing anything thing she can to help the United States regain the world title it won in 1991, but lost in 1995.

"Working hard every day in practice and forcing the starters to play better for them to have a better showing in each and every game," she said, defining her role. ... Growing up, playing forward I had a great time, but now, being a defender, it's such a challenge. Look, I get to go against Mia (Hamm), Kristine Lilly and Tiffeny Milbrett every day at practice. It's awesome."

Pearce's entire family -- parents Bob and Sandy, sister Wendi, 25, and brother Jeff, 21 -- all live in Point Pleasant. Bob, an eighth-grade teacher at Manchester Township Middle School, and Sandy, a librarian at Point Pleasant Boro, have traveled to all of the U.S. World Cup matches and will be on hand for Thursday's quarterfinal.

A trip to the semifinals in Stanford, Calif., and the championship and third-place matches at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena has already been booked -- a sign of optimism regarding the outcome of the Germany match.

"I'm just extremely pleased and proud of what's she's accomplished," Bob said. "And being part of this team is the ultimate. Whether she gets five minutes, or to start, it's another feather in her cap. It's a true example of a team, 20 girls working for a goal."

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at info@soccertimes.com.

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