MARQUETTE - Soccer is something of a tradition for the Zhang family of Marquette, so when 10-year-old Elina had the chance to sign up a few years ago, she did.
"My dad did it and my brother did it, so I wanted to try. Now my mom's doing it, too," Zhang said.
Zhang plays for the Marquette Wave travel team, part of the Superiorland Soccer Association.
Far right, Elina Zhang advances down the field with teammates during a Marquette club soccer game. (Submitted photo)
Left, Elina Zhang, far right, runs down the field. Below, Elina, front, kicks the ball down the field. (Submitted photos)
SSA includes both recreational teams and travel teams under the Football Club Marquette Travel Soccer. FC Marquette is split into a boys division and a girls division, with teams made up of players of the same age.
The travel soccer season begins in the fall, breaks during the winter months and resumes in the spring and early summer, with teams practicing roughly twice a week.
Zhang's team has a total of 12 girls.
"We warm up and we do some exercises with the ball," she said. "We do passing and then we start shooting."
Team players rotate positions to learn about different aspects of the game and also play scrimmages, depending on the focus of the practice.
"I like defense," Zhang said.
To help develop their playing skills, Zhang said players also practice maneuvering the ball around or between cones to improve accuracy.
"It's really fun. You get to do cool stuff," she said.
Younger teams travel to tournaments three times a season with older players participating in as many as five tournaments. Travel is usually to the Green Bay, Wis. area, however tournaments have also taken players to Traverse City and areas of Minnesota.
During tournaments, which are usually played in the spring and summer months, teams often play a number of games spread across a weekend. Players typically travel with their families to the tournament locations, Zhang said.
For the kids who are playing, however, soccer is more than just running around with the ball.
"It's teamwork and patience. And just to be competitive," Zhang said, adding that the chance to compete against other teams was one of the parts of the game she enjoys the most. "I just like playing. It's fun. You get to meet new people."
When she's not playing, Zhang said she also enjoys watching soccer, particularly the Chelsea Football Club from the United Kingdom and the USA Women's Soccer team that recently competed in the Olympics.
And while she might not be considering a career as a professional, Zhang said she hopes to continue playing.
"I think I'd just like to do it as a hobby," she said. "Like my dad."
Zhang's father, Roxin Zhang, is one of the team coaches for SSA.
According to the SSA website, www.superiordomesoccertournament.com/ssa, registration for the travel teams is open until Sept. 10. The recreational team sign up period is from January to March.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.