Spectators and players at the Augusta Arsenal Spring Shootout soccer tournament had the opportunity to meet a star Saturday at Fort Gordon's Barton Field.
Atlanta Beat midfielder-defender Lisa Kryzkowski appeared at the tournament to sign autographs and help raise interest in women's professional soccer. Sharolta Nonen, a defender for the Beat, was scheduled to appear but received a last-minute invitation to play in the Women's United Soccer Association All-Star Game this weekend.
Krzykowski, 25, played an integral role for the Beat, which posted the WUSA's best regular season record and lost the championship to the (San Jose) Bay Area CyberRays in the league's inaugural season last year. The CyberRays were led by Brandi Chastain, who scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. in the 1999 Women's World Cup Finals.
The idea to have the Beat attend this year's Spring Shootout can be traced to a letter sent to the team by Stephanie Allen of the Under-10 Augusta Arsenal Vipers. She became a fan when Viper coach Ed Smith took his team to its first Beat game last year.
"I was proud of her," Smith said. "I know it got Stephanie fired up. I talk to these girls all the time about being confident and aggressive. That's what this sport is all about, teaching them self-confidence."
For Krzykowski, it was a chance to escape the grind of off-season training and rediscover the roots of her soccer career.
"This brings back so many memories to be out here and see all the kids eating out of the backs of their cars and setting up tents," said Krzykowski, a Wisconsin native. "It's such a fun experience. There's so many friendships and relationships that are made that they don't even realize right now, but they will later on."
Since the WUSA season ended, Krzykowski and other Beat players have been making appearances around the South to try and influence the lives of young athletes and promote the sport at the same time. She remains humble despite her success, and said she is thrilled with the opportunity she has been given.
"I never even thought this would happen," Krzykowski said of her professional soccer career. "It's just an honor to be able to do it. I just like meeting the young girls and showing them it is possible for them to achieve their dreams."
The Beat officially kick off their second season April 13 against the Philadelphia Charge in Atlanta. Their home field moves from Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium to Herndon Stadium at Morris Brown College.
The Spring Shootout, which featured 80 boys teams and 30 girls teams, continues today at 8 a.m., with the last finals matches scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m.
Reach Lane Kramer at (706) 823-3219