After the U.S. U17 WNT finished the World Cup last year, and in the midst of her senior season of high school, Sophie Jones had a decision to make.
Having signed to play at Duke starting in the fall of 2019, the youth national team midfielder opted to drop out of the Development Academy and take one last chance to play high school soccer for the Menlo School in Atherton, California.
And what a decision that turned out to be.
Jones was crowned the Gatorade National Player of the Year on Wednesday after leading Menlo School to the best season in school history. Finishing the season with 18 goals and 16 assists, Jones helped the Menlo School finish with a 20-2-2 record, winning the Central Coast Section Division I sectional tournament championship.
“It was my senior year and it was something that I always wanted to experience,” she told topdrawersoccer.com over the phone. “The school had been asking me to play high school soccer ever since sixth grade planting that seed in my head. It was after the World Cup so I knew I would have some time off, everything aligned perfectly.”
Jones wasn’t the only on to return, as there were a handful of other players at the school that decided to come back for their senior season. Still, she approached the decision with slight trepidation, seeking to fit into the team – which she did with the help of all of her teammates.
“The girls were super cool about it,” Jones said. “I was little nervous about it too, just coming in late I didn’t want them to think that I thought was better than high school soccer or anything like that, it just didn’t work for my schedule. They were super accepting of me, when I played I tried to get everyone involved as much as I can and they returned the favor. It was a really good year, and my teammates were incredible.”
Prior to her senior year, Jones had been playing in the Development Academy for the San Jose Earthquakes. Between the mandate from U.S. Soccer for players in the DA not to compete in high school soccer (in most cases) and her numerous call-ups to national team camps with the Under-17s, it was never really a possibility for Jones to play in high school.
In fact, even after she spent her final season competing in high school, Jones was called up to the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team for last week’s camp in Virginia.
Her decision to head back to the high school level wasn’t made in a vacuum either. She had a conversation with Duke head coach about Robbie Church about making that choice, as she’ll need to be ready to play against ACC competition in the fall.
Church supported the decision, as he said it’s not uncommon for players to want to head back for their senior year to play high school ball. And the longtime Blue Devil head coach wasn’t surprised to see her come away with the National Player of the Year award.
Second to none. Watch below to learn why world-class phenom Sophie Jones won the top honor in high school sports by being named the 2018-2019 Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year! #GatoradePOY https://t.co/os5gsqgOvL pic.twitter.com/k5KI6OfHnT— Gatorade (@Gatorade) June 19, 2019
“Sophie’s been on a huge upward trend for the last three or four years,” he said. “She’s had an impact on all the teams, if it’s the Earthquakes, if it’s the national team, going back to the high school [team].”
There was another benefit to her decision: more down time than usual. Between call-ups to national team camps and club commitments for the Earthquakes, playing for high school provided time for Jones to be at home more often.
“Being on the road, away for a week or two at a time once a month for a year or two is so much fun but it definitely takes a toll,” Jones said. “It was nice to relax with my family, I was unaware what it was like to have so much free time. It was definitely a nice change of pace. It was a little weird at first, but I kind of got used to it.”
That being said, Jones knows that her time in national team camps and with a World Cup under her belt pushed her both on and off the field.
“Every single day when you’re at camp, it’s so amazing to be surrounded by the best players in the country,” she said. “Surrounding yourself with that kind of talent is inspiring and when you’re away from camp it makes you want to work even harder to get back in that environment. That definitely helped make me a better player. Along with just missing so much school, it forced me to become a better student and manage my time. That was another cool, unexpected aspect that’s really going to help me when I go off to college. Camps have been instrumental to my development as a player and a person.”
Part of Duke’s No. 5 ranked recruiting class, Jones heads off to college later this year, with preseason slated to start in early August. The deep-lying central midfielder should be able to compete for minutes right away, and she’ll have the chance to line up against another national player of the year, Duke rising senior Ella Stevens, who won the award in 2016.
Jones is eager for her next challenge, but knows it will be tough.
“It’s going to be different, away from home in a new environment,” she said. “I think that kind of uncomfortable environment and being around such incredible athletes in such a great conference is really just going to make every game difficult and we are going to have to be on every single day. I’m really, really looking forward to it.”
Still, even after the shock had worn off, she was still able to appreciate her senior season, beyond just the individual recognition.
“The team had such a great year, so it was super, super, super fun,” Jones said. “I honestly did not expect it to end up like this. I know a lot of the girls that have won in past years and I’ve always looked up to them, so to be even be talked about in the same sentence as them is truly incredible.”