Sereno player crosses desert to play soccer

Of all the athletes across the country who travel long distances to play for their club teams, Meg O’Brien has to deal with a little something extra.

O’Brien is from Flagstaff, Ariz., and travels 145 miles each way to play for Phoenix-based Sereno SC. It’s a drive through desert, mountain and valley, and after two-and-a-half hours it puts Meg at the Sereno practice fields.

Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet above sea level. Phoenix is just 1,500 feet. And the difference causes more than just the occasional ear pop.

“There have been times when we’ll get in the car after practice and it’s 70 degrees, and when we get home to Flagstaff it's 20 degrees and snowing,” says Trish O’Brien, Meg’s mother. “We’re really in the wild west.”

The O’Briens decided to give Sereno a try after Meg attended a camp in 2007, just before the seventh grade. Coaches at the camp noticed Meg and her versatility at forward and midfield. But they knew she was from Flagstaff, which, geographically speaking, is farther than the Mexican border. They weren’t sure if they could convince her to come play in Phoenix.

“They just asked if your parents would ever be crazy enough to consider doing this,” recalls Trish. “Well, I guess we were.”

And if you ask Meg, it was the right choice.

“I just love it. I really enjoy the competitive nature of it, and I enjoy being able to be on a team where I can make friends with my teammates and my coaches,” she says. “When I was given an opportunity to play for them, it was something I didn’t want to pass up.”

O’Brien has been competing for Sereno for five years now, and she currently plays for the U17 squad. She says that her dreams of playing in college were made possible through her time at Sereno.

“I’ve always really wanted to play collegiate soccer,” she says. “It was a goal of mine to travel to different places to compete with national teams and to be exposed. Playing for Sereno let me do that.”

But her mother says there were other benefits, even ones they didn’t expect.

"The one thing that we had not expected was the close relationship that we have,” says Trish. “We have a lot of time in the car together, and we have a lot of great conversations that I’m not sure we would have otherwise taken the time to have.”

The value of this time is not lost on Meg. “I couldn’t imagine ever doing this without my parents. I’m so thankful to them.”

Meg begins to laugh. “I don’t know how they’re so committed!”

It truly does take a full family commitment. Her father, Kevin, and her little sister also pitch in. Mom says, “it really does take all of us.”

The added travel also means Meg has learned to master the skill of time management. She says it’s been difficult to balance soccer with school with family life and social life. But the 4.0 student has trained herself to work through it.

“It’s been easier as I’ve gone through the years because I’ve figured out how to balance it all.” She admits she loses some sleep, but mom says that overall it’s been good for her.

“I think that it almost makes her manage time better,” says Trish. “She knows she has to work on things early to get them done and she’s very mature.”

Meg is about to complete her junior year at Northland Prep (Flagstaff, Ariz.) and her second-to-last year at Sereno. After that she’ll be headed to Northern Arizona University in the fall of 2013.

Ironically, in college, she’ll be much closer to home.