NICHOLASVILLE — In soccer circles, Arin Gilliland is a player to watch.
This week, the West Jessamine High player will travel to Spain to play for the U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team. That makes her eligible for the 2010 FIFA Women's World Cup team that will play in Germany this summer.
"I want to be the role model for younger girls, so they know that Kentucky girls can make it," Gilliland said. "There are coaches out here that will coach you and give you the things you need to become a better soccer player ... It depends on how hard you're going to work to make it."
West Jessamine girls' soccer coach Kevin Wright, who has known Arin since she was 9, said the 17-year-old junior can play any position.
Arin is the daughter of Letita and Bruce Gilliland of Wilmore. Bruce is a painting contractor. Letita is a hairdresser at Professional Hair Designers in Lexington.
During the past year, Letita Gilliland has battled colon cancer, which has spread to the liver. Even after eight months of chemotherapy, she goes to every game she can to see Arin play, whether for West Jessamine or the Ohio Elite Soccer Academy, a club team that plays around the country.
"If you looked at my mom, you would never think that she has cancer," Arin said. "She's so strong. ... She had a chemo treatment before we went to Florida for one of my tournaments, and she got in the car the next day and went. I told her not to go, but she doesn't want to miss anything."
Here's how mom described daughter:
"What sets Arin apart from others is that she does have that drive, that 'you're-not-going-to-beat-me' mentality," Letita Gilliland said. "She's very driven. She's not going to give up."
Arin participates in the Olympic Development Program, which identifies and develops young players to represent their states, regions and country in soccer competitions. U.S. Under-18 Coach Dave Chesler saw Arin play at an ODP event in Jackson, Miss. In January, she went to the Under-18 camp in California, where she and others wound up beating the Under-23 players.
Three weeks after that camp, Arin learned she would travel to Spain. The events will be in La Manga, a city on the Mediterranean coast. The Under-18 team will play Norway on Monday, Germany on March 3 and Sweden on March 5. The team returns March 6.
Arin credits her aggressiveness in part to playing with boys, both in softball and soccer. "I've always had that competitive instinct," she said. "I've always played with guys since I was 10, so it's like I always wanted to be better than them. As I made it higher and higher, I wanted to be the best on the team, so I'd try and go against the better people."
Arin said soccer is "a place for me to get away from school and where I seem comfortable. It's where I can shine."
In August, she was named the 2009 girls player of the year at the Kentucky Youth Soccer Awards, and she has verbally committed to play at the University of Kentucky. She said she hopes to play in the Olympics and wouldn't turn down the chance to play professionally.
If that doesn't work out, she wants to be a dentist.
There's another Gilliland coming up through the soccer ranks — Arin's brother, Saylor, a third-grader at Wilmore Elementary.
"For the longest time he said, 'Soccer is for girls,'" Letita Gilliland said. "Because that's all he ever saw. He grew up on the soccer field with her. He never knew that boys actually played."