Jannelle Jesme, one of the state's most promising young soccer players, tucked a ball under her arm and walked alone to a deserted park near her house in Coto de Caza.
Later that afternoon, hundreds of girls would gather at high schools throughout the county to participate in prep soccer games.
But Jesme wouldn't be joining them.
After playing on the junior varsity team at Santa Margarita High last season as a freshman, Jesme decided high school soccer was a waste of time--too many practices and not enough quality competition, she said.
Jesme and six other girls from around Southern California, including senior Shauna Itri of Edison, are giving up their high school eligibility this season to play club soccer for the Southern California Blues women's team, which is part of the prestigious San Juan Capistrano-based Blues soccer club.
Most prep players who also compete for youth soccer clubs do so only in the off-season because the California Interscholastic Federation prohibits athletes from playing on their club teams during the high school season. But coaches for the Blues women's team say they have become increasingly successful lately at persuading players to forsake their high school seasons.
They say playing for the Blues, who practice only once a week and consist primarily of former college players, provides better training than high school and makes a player more attractive to college coaches.
"If someone is very good at [soccer] and competing at the highest levels, then the avenue to take is to play club," said Larry Draluck, who oversees all teams for the Blues and coaches several of the club's girls' teams. "Ideally, and selfishly, the solution is to do away with high school soccer."
Coaches of local boys' club teams agree.
George Mitton of the North Huntington Beach soccer club said he has been trying to convince his age 19-and-under boys' team to play in a men's league during the winter for years, but the boys have always voted to disband for a few months to play for their high schools.
Matt Kinney of the Mission Viejo Pateadores soccer club likewise would like to see his boys' team play together year-round.
"We would make a lot of enemies of high school coaches, but when you're doing things for the betterment of the players, that shouldn't stop you," Kinney said. "With [Major League Soccer] coming, the next step for soccer is to better develop our youth. Private clubs do that, and high schools don't do that as well."
Many local high school coaches dispute that, however, and are becoming alarmed at what they say is a ferocious effort by club coaches--Blues coaches in particular--to siphon off the best high school talent for their teams. There were only two high school girls who played with the Blues women's team last year, compared to this year's seven.
"There's going to be more next year," Draluck said.
Although the women's Blues are only one team, the situation illustrates the large-scale animosity between many high school and club coaches.
"All it really is [for] is so a club can get their hooks into a player and totally keep them to themselves," said Chuck Morales, the girls' coach at Santa Margarita.
Jesme, 16, quit ballet at 5 because she said it was "boring." She fell in love with the speed of soccer.
"I just ran around everyone," she said.
She helped the Blues' 15-and-under team to the state final and to the Western Regional final this spring. Jesme attributes her success to Draluck, who said he has developed more than 60 NCAA Division I players.
"He knows how to teach soccer," Jesme said. "He's a perfectionist."
The fruit of a young club soccer player's labor often is measured in progress in the Olympic Development Program, which funnels thousands of players through district, state and regional levels in order to select a few for positions on national teams.
Jesme, a center midfielder, has fared well, advancing to the state level the last three years and to the regional level last summer.
"She's a Picasso, she's a natural, she's a Mozart," Draluck said. "She's one of these [talents] that is just born."
Santa Margarita's Morales disagreed. He did not select Jesme for the Eagle varsity last year when she was a freshman.
"She just wasn't technically ready or physically ready," he said.
Jesme, 5-foot-5 and 105 pounds, attended one day of varsity tryouts this season but decided not to continue.
"Soccer at the high school is a lot [of time] and school is important to me and I want to keep my grades up," she said.
Top-ranked Santa Margarita, well-stocked with many of the area's best youth club players, did not worry about her leaving.
Jesme's mother, Carol, said she hopes playing club soccer will make her daughter more attractive to college coaches.
"We spend $450 a month for [Santa Margarita] high school and hopefully she's getting a good education," Carol said. "And hopefully [club] will pay off where she'll get a [college] scholarship."