“Merge on to US-78 E towards Birmingham. Drive for 116 miles.”
The Google directions from Georgia Russell’s house to the Birmingham United practice fields are daunting. Anyone less committed or less hard-working would probably turn away immediately.
But not Russell. She crosses state lines at least twice a week to play for Birmingham United. She knows it’s the best competition around, and for the past two years, she’s made the trip to compete at the highest level.
“If I wanted to play for a Division I school, I knew this was something I needed to do,” says Georgia, a native of Tupelo, Miss. She made the switch to Birmingham United after her sophomore year of high school.
Her father Bo, who often drives her two-and-a-half hours to and from practice, echoes her sentiment.
“We know that soccer is not really a rural sport,” says Bo, a former All-SEC football player at Mississippi State. “But she’s a tremendous athlete, and the coaches at BUSA have really worked with her on the technical side.”
Birmingham United isn’t necessarily the closest option for the Russells. There are local Tupelo teams and then there are a few solid clubs about an hour and a half away in Memphis. But BUSA provides the best possible competition for Georgia, the 2010 Tupelo Daily Journal Player of the Year.
“You’re not going to get any better unless you compete against better players or better competition,” says Bo. “BUSA really gave her the best chance to do that.”
Georgia has thrived in Birmingham, earning a scholarship to Ole Miss, where she enrolled this January. She has played in all three spring games for the Rebels at left back.
And for Birmingham United, she’s one of many Division I commitments. Players travel from all across the south to play for Alabama’s only ECNL squad.
Erin Katz, a senior from Montgomery, Ala., travels 100 miles north to play for BUSA. In fact, it was her local coaches at the Capitol City Streaks who urged her to try out for the Birmingham squad a few years ago. Erin took the tryout, and since then she’s been making the hour and a half trip at least twice a week.
“For me it’s really simple, I love the competition,” Erin says. “I love any chance I get to get better. I want to play with players who feel the same way, and challenge each other any way they can.”
Erin is a true competitor, and a true team player. She’s fought through two ACL injuries, and even when she was on crutches, she still made the trip to practices and games.
“I love my teammates. I knew from the beginning they were the kind of players I wanted to be with.”
Her mother and father typically split the duty of driving Erin to practice. She often does homework in the car or sometimes catches a little nap.
“Erin has excelled academically, and that has really made this all possible,” says her father Brad. He says they usually try to have dinner ready for her in the car after practice. It’s all a lesson in time management.
“I feel like it’s easier for me to balance things when I’m more busy," Erin says. "Being in the car forces me to either read or sleep. In all honesty, the time in the car is probably good for me.”
And once she gets to Birmingham, it’s definitely good for her.
“The speed of play is much better, the technical aspect is much better and the touch is much better,” says Brad. He says not only does BUSA play against better competition, but the coaching has made Erin an all-around better player.
In February she signed a commitment to Brown this fall.
For Erin and Georgia, it’s all worth the trip. In fact, only about half the BUSA roster is actually from the Birmingham area. It’s a squad that comes from far and wide -- even across state lines -- to play at the highest level.