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Soccer Players on ‘Hat Trick Tour’ : Youth Teams Set Out for Three European Tournaments

Times Staff Writer

This morning, 53 students will go over a mental checklist on their way to Los Angeles International Airport.

Passport, camera, toothbrush, film, soccer cleats.

Although athletic equipment isn’t mandatory gear for most European travelers, it is for the students participating in the “1988 Hat Trick Tour,” a soccer safari arranged by Derek Lawther, the UC Irvine’s men’s soccer coach.

“I started doing this because I felt it was good for our young players to get international competition,” said Lawther, who organized similar trips the past two years. “Especially now that the U.S. has the World Cup in 1994, we have to prepare our teams.”

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Four teams--boys’ 14-and-under, boys’ 16-and-under, boys’ 19-and-under and girls’ 19-and-under--will play in three international tournaments, accompanied by coaches, team managers, a trainer and parents.

The first stop is Borlange, Sweden, where the teams will play in the Dalecarlia tournament. After that, they will take a ferry to Denmark, where they will play in the Dana Cup, which is held in Hjorring in Northern Denmark and, according to Lawther, is the biggest youth tournament in the world. Then they will take another ferry ride to England, the site of the final stop on the tour, the London Cup.

The team members come from all over California, from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Atascadero on the Central Coast, with many from Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties. Most of the money for the trip, which costs $2,395 per person, is obtained through donations from corporate sponsors and through fund-raisers such as raffle-ticket sales. The balance is paid by parents or with money earned by the players in part-time jobs.

Some players are veterans of the tour, such as George Charlesworth, 16, who is going back for the third time.

Others are looking forward to their first trip abroad.

“This is going to be my first time out of the United States,” said Raquel Speers, 18, a student at UC Irvine and an Irvine High School graduate. “I was initially scared about the cost, but when I talked to my friends and heard about the wonderful times they had, I knew it would be worth it.”

Even though the tour is filled with educational and social opportunities, playing serious soccer is the focus of the trip.

“The competition is great,” said Roger Leighton, the boys’ coach at Newport Harbor, who is coaching on the European trip for the second consecutive year. “Soccer is Europe’s No. 1 sport. The players improve so much just by going over there.”

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Last year, the girls’ 19-and-under team won the London Cup and won the consolation bracket of the Dana Cup. Janu Juarez, the coach of UC Irvine’s women’s team and this year’s coach of the “Hat Trick” girls’ team, expects them to be competitive again.

“I’d certainly like to match or exceed (last year’s team’s) accomplishments,” Juarez said. “I haven’t seen European women play, but from what I know, the U.S. women are among the best in the world. The trip will really give the girls an opportunity to grow as soccer players.”

And to have fun.


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