Mady Carter's brush with the U.S. National Soccer team is more than just a Hope - literally.
The Heritage junior goalkeeper, who once dined with Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup champion Hope Solo, gaining advice and encouragement, spent last weekend playing for the Olympic Development Program's national championship.
Carter and the 96 Georgia girls' team finished third, but each ODP player is as close as a young American soccer player can get to playing for their country.
United States soccer is broken down into several amateur levels beginning with recreation teams such as the Covington Y and Rockdale Youth Soccer Association.
From there, clubs have select teams which travel around the state playing teams consisting of other clubs top performers. Above select teams is a group of players in each state on ODP teams arranged by years - for example Carter played with the 96 Georgia girls' team.
Carter is currently training with her ODP team for region camp, which is a selection for the under-17 national team pool.
If she is selected to the pool, she will represent the U.S. in tournaments around the world and be among those available to be selected for Olympic and World Cup teams, playing alongside star players such as Solo, Abby Wombach, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.
In last week's national championship tournament, held in Dallas, the Georgia team lost its first match, 3-0 against Indiana, and then won the consolation game,3-2 against New Jersey. Carter played in the second half of the Indiana match, and the first of the victory over New Jersey.
"It was awesome," Carter said. "I had a lot of fun it was a great experience. It was a lot of talent - the best skills in the country; it was really top notch."
The talent was such that it challenged Carter like she hasn't been in her short history as a goalkeeper.
"Personally, I believe she has potential to be a big time goalkeeper at the next level - I know I haven't seen all of the keepers out there, but I've seen a lot over the years and Mady is the best I've seen," Heritage coach Chad Suddeth said. "What makes her different is that she has a knack for making the big, incredible save - the moment never seems too big for her."
Not only is the moment seemingly never too big, but also standing out is the fact that in the timeline of Carter's career, she is probably equally as close to being the best goalkeeper as she is from when she just started.
Growing up playing mostly softball, Carter decided to give soccer a try with RYSA when she was 10 years old, or 6 years ago. When she was 13,around eighth grade, her club coach put her in goal and the rest has been history. Carter immediately took to it, and every year since has worked her way up, improving, through the soccer ranks.
"I was 13 and had no idea what I was doing," Carter said. "But I started diving for balls and I said, ‘I really like this.' I like the adrenaline rush and I'm not scared to go into tackles.
"So I stuck with it and my club coach told me I had to really work hard to be at the top level and he saw that I had the ability to be one of the top players."
Carter took his advice and has worked, not only with Suddeth and her RYSA coaches but also instructors at goalkeeping camps, and just kept up with the game in general adding to her natural talents and demeanor.
"She's such a gifted athlete, good size and strength, quick feet, great hands - usually the best natural athlete on the field," Suddeth said. "On top of that, she's absolutely fearless.
There are not many females who are tough enough to make the physical sacrifice it takes to play goalkeeper."
She is a season ticket-holder of the Atlanta Beat, a Women's Professional Soccer team which has boasted several national team players, including Solo.
"She gave me some tips," Carter said. "We would just go to same restaurant and we would talk. I showed her some pictures of me playing and she said I had great form and great technique, and to dream big and keep working and I'd get there."
That was off the field during her freshman year with the Patriots, when she had even bigger moments on the field. One such moment was the first round of the state playoffs when the Patriots' match with Chamblee went into penalty kicks. Carter came up big, saving half of the four kicks to help Heritage advance to the state's second round.
"As a freshman in that situation - is just tremendous," Suddeth said.
In her first region game of her sophomore season, Carter showed there was now slowing her down, saving the fifth penalty kick, sending the PK session into overtime and then saving the seventh to pick up the win over Grayson. Carter is fueled off being that last resort and having her teammates depend on her in crunch time.
It has carried over to the other 10 players on the field with her, who know that if they ball gets to the final third, Carter will be back in the net for the ultimate safeguard.
"She makes the team better by providing confidence - the team knows they can be aggressive and take risks because Mady provides a security blanket for them," Suddeth said. "If they make a mistake, they know Mady will clean it up. Mady has made so many big plays in her career - that's earned instant respect with her teammates, they trust that she's going to do her job."
She was a critical part of the Patriots' team which made its way to the elite eight last season and again continued working on her craft, earning a spot on the ODP team after trying out for the previous four years.
"Finally her perseverance paid off, and she received some results for the hard work that she's put in," Suddeth said.
"Training and competing at the ODP level will definitely take her game to a much higher level. She will be tested and
challenged by higher level players, so she will be able to process and read the game faster."
Just starting her junior season, Carter is already getting the attention of some of the top colleges in the country, receiving offers form several Division I schools. She is eager to continue improving in the net and moving up the soccer ladder, in which she is already at great heights.
"She still has a very bright future and a lot to prove before she's done tending net for Heritage," Suddeth said. "Hopefully, she can lead us to a region championship before she graduates."