LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — As he gazed out at the assembly of girls' high school soccer players dotting the picturesque on-campus field, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer Coach Frank Pace uttered an adage that cut right to the essence of Monday's Harvard-Northeastern college identification camp.
"You can tell a lot more about a player by the way they practice than by the way they play in a game," said Pace, who organized the event that brought Harvard women's Coach Ray Leone and Northeastern women's Coach Terry Leone to La Cañada for the day.
For three hours, a group of about 30 players, culled mostly from area high schools, but with some ranging from as far as San Diego, were put through their paces by the husband-wife coaching duo, which kept a steady eye on the group in search of college prospects.
The purpose of the camp was twofold — provide local players a rare opportunity to glean from some respected East Coast coaching minds, while offering the Leones a peek at Southern California talent up close.
"California's loaded with great players," said Tracey Leone, who already has two players from last year's Sacred Heart squad committed to her program in Breanna Koemans and Krista Meaglia. "It's going great. [There's] a lot of talent, [it's a] really coachable group that really translate information well. They're really coachable and hungry and willing to really work hard.
"Time's flying right now, it's amazing. When time's flying like this, you know that you have a group of players that are working very hard."
Ray Leone, who guided Harvard to Ivy League championships in 2008, 2009 and 2011, and Tracey Leone, a three-time NCAA champion during her playing career at North Carolina before serving as the head coach for the United States Soccer Federation Under-19 women's national team from 2000-03, came to Southern California as a family vacation. Tracey said that Pace, a good friend of theirs, was able to persuade them to mix some business with pleasure.
The word of mouth quickly spread and Pace said there was a waiting list for the clinic among players eager to take attend the camp that doubled as a valuable learning experience, as well as an audition of sorts.
"I'm really interested in going to Harvard and I thought it would be good to attend this camp," said Taylor Ramos, 16, an incoming junior at San Diego's Coronado High. "[The camp is] really fun, I like it.
"I just really want to be the best I can be in anything that I do."
Much more a finishing school than a beginner's course, the Leones began the camp by conducting a warm-up exercise and then put the campers right to work in a fast-paced passing and ball-handling drill. That was followed by a similar exercise that put those touch passing and receiving skills to the test in a tightly-packed cluster broken up into six-girls groups.
"We're trying to help them with their body shape and now they have to solve pressure with passing and receiving," said Tracey Leone said, who was formerly an assistant at Harvard. "We're just kind of building the session up on that premise."
Both coaches made frequent breaks in the action to offer pointers and criticism, all of which was eagerly soaked up by the girls. Ray Leone was taking some mental notes of his own with regard to those who met his criteria as a college player.
"[We're looking for] somebody who wants to be coached, someone that has a desire to get better, for sure," he said. "It's hard to figure this out out here, but you're looking for somebody who thinks the game, so that they're a step ahead of the rest in their thought process.
"It's an everyday commitment to get better. Today's soccer players, they play so much they don't practice enough. ...Sometimes kids get to 15 or 16 and they go, 'Hey, I'm pretty good,' but pretty good isn't enough for the next level."
As the camp neared its midpoint, players seemed to be picking up the message from the Leones and were making the most of the opportunity.
"It's also good to see how these coaches play, their style of play and to get to know new play that's not so foreign when we get into college and we know how to interact with new players," Miranda Saldivar, 17, of Sacred Heart said. "It's all for the experience."
For many, the main allure was the slim likelihood of ever getting a similar chance to impress and learn from coaches as accomplished and well-regarded as the Leones without having to leave their home town.
"We really appreciate [the Leones] coming out here because it's such a great opportunity and it's not every day that you get some of the best colleges in the country coming locally to you," said Katie Wardlaw, 17, of Pasadena Poly/
Added 17-year-old Kennedy Dinius of Mayfield High said, "It was a great opportunity, it was local, so why not just go for it?"