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The Daily Tar Heel

Kluegel Shines on National Stage

North Carolina senior midfielder Jena Kluegel played in nine games this summer with the U.S. National Team, starting in four.

When Jena Kluegel ran onto the turf early last month at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., for the U.S. women's national soccer team, the record-setting crowd of 15,614 greeted its hometown star with a hero's welcome.

"I couldn't believe it," said Kluegel, North Carolina's senior midfielder from Mahtomedi, Minn. "Because there were so many people there, and then when I went in, all these people were cheering for me. That's never happened before, and who knows if it'll happen again? So I was loving it at the moment. I was like, `Man, this is the coolest thing ever.'"

Kluegel, who replaced Keri Raygor in the 35th minute of the Americans' 1-0 win against Canada on July 3, spent this summer playing with the national team and the under-21 team in the Nordic Cup.

On Aug. 1, the under-21 team defeated Sweden 6-1 in the championship game to capture its third consecutive Nordic Cup in Norway, the premiere event of the year for that age group.

Kluegel was joined on the team by two of her UNC teammates: defenders Danielle Borgman, a senior, and Catherine Reddick, a sophomore.

"It's even better when I get to go to these things and have friends there," said Kluegel, who finished second in the nation with 23 assists last season. "They're not just teammates, they're my friends, and we have a blast when we do that stuff. We love competing together, and I know they're going to come out and compete every time on the field."

Kluegel also played nine games with the full team this year (starting four of them), including a pair of matches in China in January, a game in Italy in March and four contests in Portugal in the Algarve Cup, also in March.

Her homecoming in Blaine was preceded by a 2-2 tie with Canada on June 30 in Toronto.

"Any chance that I have to play with the national team or against other national teams, it's great for my development and experience because that's the highest level you can play in women's soccer," said Kluegel, who earned her first three caps with the national team last year.

With many of the top players in the country gearing up for the inaugural season of the WUSA, Kluegel and other young players had a prime opportunity to gain international experience.

And they took their lumps. Fielding a team with an average age of 19, the national team finished 1-3 in the Algarve Cup against the national teams of Canada, Portugal, Sweden and Norway.

"I think that's good for women's soccer here," said Kluegel, 20, who was joined on the Algarve Cup roster by Reddick and UNC sophomore forward Alyssa Ramsey. "Hopefully, the younger pool of players are gaining more experience. Because I think there's kind of a gap between the veterans and the players on the national team. Whenever we can get games like that, it's really good."

Said Ramsey, "It was intimidating, but it was a challenge. It was fun to step on the field with teams of that caliber and try to play."

Kluegel got a little different experience from any of her teammates this summer: dealing with a flood of media and fan attention.

Her return to her home state was no small news. Two days before the game, she was honored in a ceremony at halftime of the Minnesota Thunder's A-League match. And the day before the game against Canada, she conducted a 45-minute youth clinic with team captain Julie Foudy at the National Sports Center, the field where she grew up playing club and high school soccer.

"It was wild being home and having all these little things to do and getting so much attention," Kluegel said. "I've never experienced that before. And it kind of gave me a small glimpse of what the veterans go through on a daily basis. And I can't even imagine what that's like because people demand so much of them."

Kluegel might have to get used to the attention. She plans to join the WUSA next year, and as one of the top up-and-coming players in the country, she's certain to become one of the most popular players of the budding league.

"I definitely would like to play in the WUSA next season, but you have to prove yourself," Kluegel said "And they've been proving themselves -- people like Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy. They've been playing that way for the past 10 years. That's why they are who they are."

Ramsey Healing

One of Kluegel's UNC teammates who couldn't make the trip to Norway for the Nordic Cup was Ramsey.

Ramsey, who had 14 goals and 15 assists for the Tar Heels last season, suffered a partial tear of the lateral collateral ligament in her right knee in a scrimmage on July 19, the night before the team was set to fly to the competition.

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Ramsey said she's hoping to return in time for the second game of the season at Texas on Aug. 31 and that she's not completely healed.

She said, "Sprinting bothers it a little bit."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.