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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

GOING CAMPING: Princeton star striker Esmeralda Negron controls the ball in the Tigers' win over Yale last fall. Negron, a rising senior who is second all-time at Princeton with 27 career goals, recently got called up to the U.S. Under-21 team's training camp in Carson, Calif. Negron will be one of 25 top college players vying for a spot on the U-21 side's roster as it takes part in the Nordic Cup competition this July in Iceland.
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Princeton Women's Soccer Star Negron Gets Call for U.S. U-21 Training Camp

By Bill Alden

As a child growing up in northern Jersey, Esmeralda Negron dreamed of someday playing on the U.S. national women's soccer team.

This week, Negron, a star striker for Princeton University, will take a key step in reaching that ambition when she heads out to the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. to participate in a training camp with the United States Under-21 national team.

Negron, a native of Harrington Park, N.J., will be one of 25 players vying for one of the 18-20 spots on the squad that will represent the U.S. U-21s when they compete at the Nordic Cup to be played in Iceland from July 19-30.

After having taken part in an earlier U-21 camp in April, Negron is chomping at the bit to show her stuff this time around as she competes with players who are just one level below the top U.S. national side.

"When I came to the first camp, I was really nervous because I didn¹t know what to expect," said Negron, the 2003 Ivy League Player of the Year as a junior when she tied Princeton's single season record by scoring 13 goals for the 11-3-3 Tigers.

"It's a faster-paced game. Strength is also a factor because you have to be stronger on the ball. Once you've played against them a little bit, you get used to it. I felt like I did well. I was really excited to get the call asking me back. Now I know what it's like so I can just go out there and play hard."

Princeton head coach Julie Shackford is certainly excited about Negron's achievement. "It's great for her, she's so passionate about the game," said Shackford.

"This is her second stint in the U-21 camp. She did a good job in the first one, she made first alternate. That is impressive considering that a lot of the girls had been coming to the national camps for years."

Negron has been keeping busy over the off-season as she tries to bring her game up to national class. "I've been playing a lot," explained Negron, who is heading into her last Princeton season with 27 career goals, second all-time at the school behind the 41 scored by Linda DeBoer. "I've had a lot of time to devote to soccer since school ended. I feel like I'm playing at just about my best."

Negron's current form has been helped greatly by playing this summer with the New Jersey Stallions of the W-League. "We've been practicing twice a week and playing two games a week," said Negron. "It's really helped to keep me sharp."

Negron has noticed the improvement in her game. "I feel like I'm going at people well right now," added Negron. "I feel like my finishing is sharp."

Negron is proud to be not only the only Princeton player but the only Ivy Leaguer included in the final pool for the U-21 team.

"It'll be great to be representing Princeton," asserted Negron, who said the camp will last nine days and that she should find out shortly thereafter whether she's made the cut for the Nordic Cup. "It's surprising to see an Ivy Leaguer in the top-25 college players in the country. To be in the top 25 is a great feeling."

For Shackford, it's great to have someone like Negron in the Princeton program. "She's a coach's dream in terms of productivity," added Shackford, who has a 98-49-10 mark at Princeton as she enters her tenth year at the helm of the Tigers' program.

"She doubled her stats from sophomore to junior year. She has truly become an impact player. It's great for the program. Its great for kids we are recruiting to see that you play at Princeton and maybe end playing at a national camp."

In Shackford's view, Negron has the game to make an impact at the national level. "She can do different things than a lot of players," explained Shackford. "She can break down a defense by herself. She loves the pressure of having to score."

Whether or not Negron ultimately makes the U-21 roster for the Nordic Cup, she knows the camp will be an experience to savor.

"We get to wear the U.S.A. jerseys in training, its so exciting to put them on," said Negron. "The whole thing is a great experience. I know that when I came back from the camp in April, I felt like I was a step faster than everyone else."

And if things go well for Negron out in California, she could move a step closer to realizing her childhood dream.

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