BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — For more than a decade, the Shenendehowa girls’ soccer team has conducted a “World Cup” event the afternoon of its final day of preseason double sessions, a celebratory workout devoted to scrimmaging in costumes.
Over the years, the players’ uniforms have changed from representing countries to more fun themes, such as this year’s costumes based on video game characters, 1980s fitness icons and pirates.
Michelle Clarkin, a junior, was a member of the pirates squad at Tuesday’s practice. Before that, though, she had been immersed in a World Cup-like environment of her own.
Clarkin, a citizen of both the United States and Ecuador, had been practicing with the U20 Ecuador women’s soccer team in Guayaquil, Ecuador. She left Aug. 9 for Ecuador, got back to Albany around noon Tuesday after six-plus hours of traveling, and was at her 3:30 p.m. Shenendehowa practice that day.
“I didn’t sleep at all,” Clarkin said. “I just came right over here to practice.”
Through a connection of her club coach, the 16-year-old Clarkin received an invitation in early August to try out for the U20 Ecuador team. She only had a couple days to decide if she wanted to take a shot at playing for the native country of her mother, Erika, but Clarkin didn’t need much time to make up her mind.
“There was no way I was going to let this opportunity go,” said Clarkin, who has been a dual citizen since she can remember. “So I went.”
To do that, Clarkin needed to miss a little more than the first week of her school team’s preseason. Her Shenendehowa teammates and head coach Holli Nirsberger encouraged her to do just that.
“We love having her here, but that’s an opportunity you can’t pass up,” Nirsberger said. “We told her to go do the best she can, show them what you got — just keep me posted along the way because that’s an awesome trip.”
And, things went pretty well for Clarkin.
Before she left Tuesday for home, Clarkin was invited to play with the U20 Ecuador team in tournaments this upcoming November and January.
“It was an awesome experience,” Clarkin said of her 10-plus days in Ecuador.
Clarkin’s mother — a Spanish teacher at Shenendehowa — moved to the United States as a young adult. Clarkin still has many family members in Ecuador.
“So I’d already gone several times in the past to Ecuador,” said Clarkin, who is fluent in Spanish. “I have family all over Ecuador.”
This upcoming season, Clarkin will be all over the field for the Plainsmen, who were Section II Class AA semifinalists last year. Clarkin missed nearly all of her sophomore season with a hip injury, but is fully healthy as the 2017 season approaches.
“She’s extremely talented on the ball. She sees the field very well,” Nirsberger said of the midfielder. “She’s really threatening on the offensive side of the ball.”
Clarkin said her ability to play in those November and January international tournaments will depend on if she can manage her schoolwork around them. Before any of that comes along, though, she said her top goal is helping the Plainsmen win games in the Suburban Council.
“We have a great team dynamic,” Clarkin said. “We get along on and off the field really well, and that’s important.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at 395-3109, email@example.com or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.