This week we focus on Claudia Merlos, a graduate of Wilson High School who is attending Trinity Washington University in the District and playing for the women's soccer team.
(Photos of Claudia practicing for Trinity.)
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Claudia Merlos was not on a soccer field. Instead, she was in her socks.
With thunderstorms pounding Washington, DC, Merlos' college soccer team was relegated to the basketball gym for practice. Not only that, but the volleyball nets were still up, dissecting the wooden surface into two narrow areas to work with.
And Merlos didn't have her gym shoes. Thus, the socks.
The obstacles, however, didn't keep the freshman -- on her 18th birthday -- from showing a glimpse of why Trinity Washington University coach Sarah Pickens calls her a "player that's really going to help us get to the next level and you can tell that from the get-go."
Toward the end of practice, Merlos joined the five other shoe-less players -- minus the socks, too -- for a 3-on-3 drill. During the roughly 10 minutes, she communicated with teammates nonstop -- marking up defensively whenever the ball changed possession, her feet in constant motion, a "shoeless wonder" as her group members tagged themselves.
"I really love her style of play and what she can bring to Trinity," said Pickens, in her second year coaching the Tigers. "She's a spark plug. She's got a lot of passion for the game, is also very fit, and will run the grass off the field."
|Merlos with Trinity|
coach Sarah Pickens.
Merlos grew up in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC, just a 5-minute walk from DC SCORES' flagship school, Marie Reed Elementary. In third grade, she was too young to join the after-school program. A year later, with a passion already borne for soccer from watching her father and uncle play and on TV, she immersed herself.
Embracing DC SCORES' values of teamwork, leadership and commitment, Merlos became captain of the Panthers in fifth grade and flourished in the role for two years. In seventh grade, however, she moved on to Hardy Middle School, which lacked the after-school program.
Merlos and her friends were frustrated they couldn't continue playing the sport they loved so much. They did something about it.
"We did a petition where we got signatures from custodians, teachers, parents, like everyone, everyone," Merlos said. "We got a lot of signatures.
"We actually got a team. Of course not DC SCORES, but we got a soccer team together and we had casual games and practices. It was fun. It was a good feeling."
The experience also demonstrated an attribute of Merlos' honed on the soccer field of Reed that she has carried all the way to college. She is outgoing, she communicates well with others, and she knows how to motivate and inspire. She's a leader.
"Overall from DC SCORES, I not only got a chance to learn the basic fundamentals of soccer, but I also got a chance to enhance my communications skills," Merlos said, "which is why today when it comes to publicly talking, it's so easy for me just because I've learned how to take all that learning to real-life situations."
Merlos also thinks back on the poetry aspect of the program when talking about communications. "I'm really good at my writing skills," she said. "I like expressing myself." She's plans to major in Business Management and minor in Sociology at Trinity while continuing to play soccer.
"The cool thing about Claudia from what I can tell so far is that she's able to play almost every position," Pickens said. "So she is very versatile and as a player in almost any sport, it's important and very valuable."
Practice finished up that rainy evening. It was a quick one. It also featured about 75 wide smiles from the "Shoeless Wonder" as she moved seemingly effortlessly across the wood during drill after drill. Now, it's time for her to head home to her new neighborhood by RFK Stadium. A long night of homework awaits. Her birthday celebration can't happen until the weekend.
Merlos' impact on the Trinity soccer program, though, is already in progress.
"I can't imagine what she'll look like as a senior," Pickens said. "It'll be an awesome sight."