The Young girls' team last spring had a distinct before and after phase. The two parts were unquestionably connected to Mia Espino, a midfielder and the team's most talented offensive player.
Without Espino, the Dolphins struggled in their attack and found themselves often on the outside looking in. Then Espino returned, and it was a wholly different team. Young went from a defensive-oriented unit dominated by star keeper Rachel Hobert to an aggressive and formidable unit.
She scored a goal and assisted another as the Dolphins ended Lane's 31-game Public League winning streak in a 2-2 draw. That was just the start. She also scored the go-ahead goal against Payton and its star Corinne Harris in the city semifinals.
Young rode that hot streak to a city title, once again breaking Lane's two-year hold on the city crown as they edged the Indians 2-1 in overtime. Naturally, it was not just because of Espino. She was the catalyst.
Her story takes on added resonance with the start of the London Summer Olympics later this week. The reason the star missed the early portion of the Dolphins' season was she involved in Guatemala's bid to qualify for the 12-team field.
She trained with the national team in Guatemala before playing in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Panama City, Panama in March. Her parents are both from Guatemala. "When I was in seventh grade, my sister [Jasmine, who currently plays at Wisconsin-Parkside] and I both tried out for the national team," Espino explained. "We both made it, but they wanted us to live there for six months and my parents strongly believed that education always comes first."
With her sister looking at colleges and Mia deciding on high schools, the timing was off. She maintained interest.
"After a few years, Guatemala kept trying to look for Guatemalan Americans to build their team, and so they did," she said. "They played in Canada to go to Panama and they won that tournament." The victory produced the invitation to play in the Panama qualifying round.
When representatives contacted Espino's father about Mia playing with the team, it was an opportunity she could not turn down, she said. "It was always my father's dream for me to play at a professional level," she said. The only downside was her sister missed the team's age cutoff, having just turned 21.
After her introduction to the Guatemalan team, Espino went to Panama City for the ten days. It was an eye-opening experience. "At first I was anxious and nervous," she said. She really looked forward to playing against the American squad. She tried out for the national team. "I only made it as far as the regional team, and I felt at that time I was faster and way better," she said. "We lost 6-0 [to the USA team] but I believe I played very well and I was satisfied because I gave it my all."
Guatemala failed to make it out of the qualifying round. Espino returned home, and her confidence soared.
"This experience helped my game a lot by making me a better defender because I'm more of a offensive center [midfielder] and on the Guatemalan team they placed me as an offensive and defensive [midfielder]," she said. "I also learned to take care of my body [better] because I spent a lot of my [sophomore] season the year before hurt and sitting out. Playing without any kind of injury is great because I was able to pass a perfect ball, go hard into a tackle sprint and I never got tired."
Because of her involvement, Espino said she is paying special attention to the Olympics. Panama City was only the beginning. "I miss my team, and I wish we had won in Panama, but it's okay because I'll be returning in two years."