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Confer hopes to keep soccer ball in air

For a while, Clearwater Central Catholic graduate Robin Confer has been designated an up-and-comer, one of the young talents who could help the United States remain dominant in women's soccer.

Confer, 21, has done all the right things. The 1994 Florida high school player of the year, she signed with the University of North Carolina, long the nation's top-ranked program, to learn from legendary coach Anson Dorrance, who in his own way is as valuable to the Tar Heels as Dean Smith was.

She has progressed steadily at forward, won two national championship rings, and evolved into one of UNC's key players. Now a senior, she is tied for first on the team in goals with 13. A week ago in the Tar Heels' 4-0 pounding of Clemson, Confer scored a hat trick and was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week and selected to Soccer America's national team of the week.

And she has made her mark elsewhere: Over the summer as part of the U.S. under-20 national team, Confer was instrumental in capturing the coveted Nordic Cup.

No one doubts her future is promising. But thinking about what comes next makes Confer nervous.

Her last regular-season game with UNC (18-0-1) is today. She will graduate in May with a degree in physical education. She has just started to think about what will happen when she leaves the cozy world of North Carolina women's soccer. And it's a little scary.

"A lot of players, they get out of college, and that's pretty much the end of their careers," Confer said. "Either that or they go to the national team."

Confer is in the national team pool, but she will have to battle for a spot.

"Every time I go into camp I have to prove myself," she said.

A few months ago, Confer was almost certain that after graduation she would hop easily into the National Soccer Alliance, a women's pro league that was supposed to start in April 1998. But the league has not been sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, and the longer the federation takes to make a decision, the less likely it becomes the NSA will start on time.

Some say U.S. Soccer won't allow the league to start until 2000, so as not to interfere with preparation for the 1999 Women's World Cup, which the United States will host.

So Confer scouts the Internet for the latest news while pondering her options. More than anything she'd like to play in the World Cup and 2000 Olympics as part of the national team.

She got major international experience in the spring, traveling with the U.S. team to Australia and around the country in the Nike Victory Tour.

"It was an amazing experience," she said. "All the players on the national team I grew up idolizing. I have posters of them on my wall still: Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy. I feel like I'm not worthy enough to be on the field with them."

If she doesn't make the national team right away, she has options. But Confer's main focus is staying competitive, a challenge for many top players once they leave college.

"I've been thinking about playing overseas in Japan," she said. "But the competition's not that good. That's kind of what's turning me away from it. If I don't go to Japan, hopefully I can find a coaching job with a college team. I could stay in shape, jump into scrimmages.

"If not that, I don't know. It's hard to train on your own. That's what the national team players now struggle with."

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