All the miles racked up on I-95 and the hours spent chasing top-level training are paying off for Bluffton's MacKenzee Vance, who recently was named to the United Soccer Coaches Youth Girls All-America Team.
Vance, a standout forward and midfielder, was one of 47 girls across the country named to the team, which is the top honor awarded to youth soccer players in the U.S.
"I was very honored to be selected for this award," Vance said. "With all the time, energy, and hard work over the years, it's awesome to have my efforts rewarded. I know without all the huge amount of support from my family, teachers, friends, teammates and coaches, I would not have reached this level."
Vance's name might not be familiar to casual sports fans in the Lowcountry, because she has had to travel outside the area to hone her skills. After starring for Bluffton High School as a freshman, Vance gave up her high school sports career to join the U.S. U-17 National Team player pool and played for the national squad in a friendly match against Venezuela earlier this year.
Vance travels to Jacksonville after school two to three days a week to train with the United Soccer Alliance's U-19 Girls Development Academy team, doing her homework in the car - she maintains a 4.65 GPA and is in the top 10 percent of her class. She doesn't get home until 11 p.m. or later, then gets up to do it all again the next day.
"I believe it's not only her strong soccer skills and work ethic that helped her win this award, but her ability to go well beyond a normal athletes' programming," said Vance's mother, Susan Donahoe-Vance. "She is one of the best, yet remains very humble."
Vance verbally committed to UCLA during her freshman year and plans to major in sports medicine and play for the Bruins after graduating from Bluffton High in 2020.
After that, who knows? Vance has been focused on playing at the highest level - think World Cup and Olympics - since she began serious club training at age 8, and she hasn't reached her peak yet.
Justin Jarrett has been covering sports in the Lowcountry since 2005 and is the founder of LowcoSports.com.