Skyy Anderson

The Washington Spirit's Skyy Anderson pulls the ball away from Duke's Kim DeCesare. (Tony Quinn / For The Baltimore Sun / March 17, 2013)

All athletes dream of reaching the big leagues, of playing under the lights in front of thousands of screaming fans. Skyy Anderson, 23, lived that dream.

But then it was all taken from her.

After a four-year career at Maryland, Anderson was offered a chance to try out for the Philadelphia Independence. But after leaving school and leaving everything behind to pursue that opportunity, the Women's Professional Soccer league collapsed, leaving Anderson with nowhere to go.

"I was like, 'I took this year off and now I'm just sitting at home,'" Anderson said. "'I took my last semester off with all my friends and everything and now soccer is nonexistent.' So I got a couple of internships to build up my resume. But then I found out the league was starting back up again."

After a year out of soccer, Anderson wasn't sure that she wanted to or even could play the sport professionally anymore. She needed to think about her future, and if the league collapsed again, she didn't know what she would do.

But when the Washington Spirit called her about a new professional women's soccer league, Anderson decided that her love of the game was worth risking it all again.

"This is my passion, this is my safe haven, so why not take advantage?" Anderson said. "This is what God put me on Earth for, so I was like 'go for it' and I signed with the Spirit."

The Spirit is part of the National Women's Soccer League, an eight-team league that will play its first season this spring. The team is made up primarily of recent college graduates and former pros.

Besides Anderson, the Spirit employs three other former Maryland players who are battling in preseason for roster spots. Domenica Hodak, 21, Danielle Hubka, 22, and Olivia Wagner, 21, have all joined Washington after leaving school early.

All four will travel back to College Park for a Wednesday night exhibition game against Maryland at Ludwig Field. The match is part of a five-game exhibition series pitting the Spirit against college teams to prepare them for the opening of professional play.

While the professional career is nice, Anderson says returning to school not as a Terp but as an opponent will be a bittersweet homecoming.

"It's going to be pretty cool and weird because I'm still used to playing in John Morgan's atmosphere," Anderson said of her former coach. "But I think it'll be fun. It'll be nice to play against the program that built me. Weird and nice at the same time."

Despite the nostalgia, Hubka is treating the game with the same competitive edge as any other contest. While her relationship with her former team is amicable, she plans to use it to her benefit when the whistle blows.

"I think it'll be fun. It'll be fun to be back out on Ludwig and fun to see our team," Hubka said. "I also think it'll be an advantage for us because we know our team and our coaches' tendencies."

That competitiveness has been reflected in the play of the Spirit throughout the exhibition series. The defense, led by starters Hubka and Hodak and reserve Anderson, has yet to allow a goal despite taking on some of the better college teams in the country.

After defeating Penn State and drawing Duke, the Spirit took down defending NCAA champion North Carolina, 2-0, this past Saturday in front of an announced 1,725 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The facility, which is located in Germantown, will serve as the team's home field this season.

"You're playing with basically the best in the country," said Wagner, who scored the franchise's first goal in the game against Penn State. "We're playing with [Atlantic Coast Conference] players that we played with for four years. It's another level up. ACC soccer is the best in the country and then this is another level up."

Tickets for Wednesday's game are available for free on a first-come first-serve basis through the Spirit website.

No matter what happens in the game, Hodak realizes that this will probably be her last time playing on a field she once called home.

"I'm just happy that I'm going to get one last game on Ludwig," Hodak said.

bpaxton@baltsun.com

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