When he was 13 years old, Sunny Jane decided to leave his home country of Lesotho and move to the United States to advance his soccer career.
Last Sunday, Jane took another step along that path as he contributed two goals and an assist as the second-seeded Terps cruised to a 5-1 victory over Coastal Carolina in the NCAA tournament. The win secured a trip to the quarterfinals and a rematch against Louisville on Saturday at 5 p.m. in College Park.
The matchup with the Cardinals is particularly interesting for Jane because his first trip to the College Cup hinges on beating a college from Kentucky, the state in which he settled after coming to the country.
Born in Lesotho, a landlocked country within the borders of South Africa, Jane started playing soccer at age 4, after beginning to learn the sport a year earlier. A young Jane would watch his older brother, Jane Jane, a Lesotho national team member, and constantly ask him to teach the skills he displayed on the field.
The elder Jane's instruction came with a condition — if Sunny wanted to learn the moves, he needed quick feet.
With the condition set, Sunny worked tirelessly to increase his agility, from jumping rope to running posts.
As Jane grew, so did his potential — at 13, he was already working with Lesotho's under-18 team. Word spread to Thabane Sutu, a former goalkeeper for the Lesotho national team who was coaching at the renowned soccer club United 1996 in Louisville.
With United 1996 recruiting him to come to the United States, it was time for Jane to make the choice to leave Lesotho or stay in the country. Making the decision tougher was the fact that Jane's father, Teboho, had recently died after becoming sick from working in the mines. But, with the blessing of his mother, Majane, Jane chose to go.
The transition to this country was difficult. All at once Jane had to juggle a drastic time difference, new food, a new culture, and new rules, as well as learning English.
"It was terrible," Jane said with a laugh. "I couldn't form a good, long sentence."
But the biggest problem came from being homesick. Jane called home as much as he could, but he knew it wasn't the same as seeing his family in person.
Once the initial difficulties passed, Jane flourished in Kentucky. He became an all-state player at Trinity High, and was listed as the No. 10 recruit in the country by TopDrawerSoccer.com before committing to play for Maryland and coach Sasho Cirovski.
"Sunny and I connected immediately," said Cirovski, who grew up in Macedonia and left home at age 17 to pursue soccer in the United States. "We have a very special bond."
His quick feet rapidly became a main attraction a Ludwig Field, as the 5-foot-6 midfielder dazzled spectators with his agility and foot skills. Jane played in 19 games as a freshman and became a starter in his sophomore year.
"He puts teams on their heels," said Cirovski, who routinely calls Jane one of the most dynamic players in the country. "He can pull that shake-and-bake and leave you in the dust."
But Jane has struggled offensively in 2012 — the goals Sunday were his first two of the season, and he only recorded four assists.
"He's been snakebit around the goal," Cirovski said. "We've all expected him to score more and get more assists … but we always have faith in him."
Jane said: "I was really frustrated, but it's something I didn't let get to my head."
That positive outlook is expected from someone with the nickname, "Sunny." His first name is Tsotleho, but he has been called "Sunny" since he was a child because of the "light" he brought to the family in dark times.
"Sunny is a perfect name for him — he lights up the room when he walks in," Cirovski said. "You can't help but feel better when you see Sunny."
Jane's first goal in 2012 did more than break a slump. It could signal the re-emergence of another weapon for the Terps as they contend for a national title, setting up a fantastic finish for the junior, giving him momentum for his senior year. And once again it came down to a decision.
Isolated with a defender 10 yards from the goal on an angle, Jane could have gone left or right. He used his speed to cut left before dancing briefly and squeezing a shot just inside the net to give the Terps a 3-1 lead. He sprinted to the left corner, unleashed a 1000-watt smile and a tiny dance in celebration, all before being swarmed by the team.
Once again, Sunny Jane made the right choice.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun