She knew this was it; her passion. A conduit for years of time and energy, soccer promptly became the centerpiece for Alabama sophomore midfielder/defender Reyna Reyes.
Upon first touch it was clear, and as with rare moments, mainly indescribable.
“I just loved the feeling,” Reyes said.
She still does, but who could have foreseen where it would eventually take her? Certainly not to some of the places she's been, including Tuscaloosa, or the other side of the world. It's too uncommon they would say.
On her next geo-odyssey Reyes aims for Australia and New Zealand, expected host countries for the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2023. Representative of more than the next pinnacle, it is the summit for her soccer career. She won't be with Team USA, though, which takes some explaining.
Too early to be relatable, even uncommon by nature, her lifelong devotion was discovered as a child. Excited, Reyes remembers telling her mom she wanted to play forever.
Soccer made quite the first impression – like the first time hearing “Under Pressure” – suddenly you have rhythm.
Not long after, but countless hours later, she began to ‘play up’ for her age and competed against older girls. Simply connecting on passes is satisfactory for many kids, but not Reyes whose talent warranted pro scouting as a youth. FC Dallas was interested in the Garland, Texas, product.
Reyes joined their youth academy but knew she needed a competitive edge as one of the smallest girls out there.
“I knew I had to prove myself, but I knew I had to do extra.”
She did, earning an invite to trials as a 14-year-old with the U17 Mexico Women’s National Team.
“My whole life I knew I wanted to take soccer as far as I could,” Reyes said.
Well, as the biggest step yet, it would lead to a huge decision: which flag? She had the option, she thought, to represent Mexico or the U.S. But trials with Mexico made American representatives disinterested, validating her want to play for the team to the south.
“Since I did that, they stopped calling,” said an indifferent Reyes, so long as she played somewhere.
Debuting in a World Cup is infrequent, especially as the youngest player by a couple of years. Soon age didn't matter though. She was good enough, deserved to be on the pitch, and knew the role needed to help capture Mexico’s first gold medal – which consumed the dressing room in the 2016 tournament.
“All you gotta do is go out there and have fun,” she told herself, knowing the magnitude.
Whether it was the big stage, the pro setting, or heightened intensity, Reyes admitted she and her teammates were victims of an unfamiliar environment, and not just because they were in Jordan. Ultimately it was Mexico's undoing in the quarterfinals.
Venezuela jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and although Mexico cut it to 2-1, it needed more than 90 minutes. Self-inflicted shortcomings told the story and prevented a semifinal appearance - a World Cup exit absent a gold medal.
Nerves, inexperience, and slow starts proved consequential, but Reyes knew she'd return in two years as a more experienced presence, one able to crisply navigate the sport’s biggest youth stage.
Meanwhile ... Reyes developed beyond the physical sense; mental acumen became equally important. No two countries shared soccer ideology. You must adapt to anything in international play, she knew, whether it's "beautiful, technical soccer," or not.
“Brazil, England … they all have such good skill, so it’s like, ‘Ok, you can’t mess around.” She said.
The 2018 U17 World Cup in Uruguay featured a more seasoned Mexico Women’s group previously lacking confidence. Reyes was a leader, whereas two years prior she was simply learning on-the-go. After an easy path to the semifinals and a gold medal within sight, Canada stood in the way of a first-ever final appearance for Mexico.
Anticlimactic for fans and anything but for players, Mexico prevailed 1-0 and made history.
Alongside and waiting was Spain, well-constructed and well-acquainted with the occassion. It belonged, though Mexico needed to prove it did as well. A fast start was imperative, but not how it unfolded. Spain led 2-0 at the half, making for a tense Mexico dressing room, one filled with questions of ‘how?’.
The second half was dominated by Mexico, however, the hole was too deep, in time cementing a 2-1 defeat.
It's all stayed with Reyes. All of it, but tough moments particularly.
“I want a gold medal.”
Her international youth career ended there, as college was next. She made the decision with ease, thanks in part to constant contact with Crimson Tide coach Wes Hart.
“Alabama kind of reminds me of Texas and it’s not … too far or anything,” Reyes said, “I felt really welcomed here by the coaches and the girls at the time.”
A unique path to college, sure, but every step involved development, which at Alabama included SEC-All Freshman honors as well as All-SEC First Team. Like tallied height on a wall, Texas-to-Tuscaloosa marked another iteration in her story of professional dreams, dreams accompanied by enough experience to morph into reality.
"She's got that edge," Hart said, "You see kids trying to do more than what they're capable of, but not her, she knows who she is. She's just gotta be herself."
Reyes candidly defines her aspirations, “Hopefully get drafted, and then go from there and stay on the national team.”
Two weeks ago, she was promoted to the Mexico Women’s National Team and traveled to participate in a training camp at the Centro de Alto Rendimiento (CAR) in México City. It's an important step toward making the roster for CONCACAF Qualifying, assuredly so, as it "lit another fire under her," and added to the 'edge' - likely enough to assist in World Cup qualifying efforts.
Reyes was moved by 'the call' and the trip given how long she's been in the ring, dealing and ducking blows until a subsequent outcome.
Of course. To see a plan years in the making slowly come true is what she unknowingly dreamt as a child when foot first met ball. It was the only plan for Reyes.
“Two weeks ago that came true.”
That's the dream ... until eventual eclipse.