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Apollo-Ridge goalie Bonelli rises through ranks

| Thursday, March 13, 2014, 12:16 a.m.
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Apollo-Ridge sophomore Megan Bonelli leaps to collect the ball in front of an opposing attacker while playing for the PA West Olympic Development team at the Region I ODP tournament on June 8-, 2013, at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.
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Apollo-Ridge sophomore Megan Bonelli (center, in purple) poses for a photo with some of her Region I Olympic Development Program teammates after a match during the team's trip to Germany from Feb. 21 to March 1, 2014.
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Apollo-Ridge sophomore Megan Bonelli (front row, third from left) was part of the Region I Olympic Development Program girls soccer team that traveled to Germany from Feb. 21 to March 1, 2014. Bonelli was the only player from western Pennsylvania selected to the team, which selects players from 13 northeastern states and the District of Columbia.
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Apollo-Ridge sophomore Megan Bonelli poses for a picture at the border between Germany and France during her trip to Europe, Feb. 21 to March 1, 2014, as a goalkeeper on the Region I Olympic Development Program girls soccer team.

Even without being able to play for her school, Megan Bonelli has become one of the area's top high school-aged soccer players.

Bonelli, a sophomore at Apollo-Ridge, added another honor to her soccer career when she traveled to Germany last month as a goalkeeper for the Region I Olympic Development Program's U-16 team.

A player for South Hills-based Beadling Soccer Club, Bonelli was the only player from Western Pennsylvania selected for the Region I ODP team, which is made up of players from 13 northeastern states and the District of Columbia. But for all her achievements, one thing she doesn't get to do is play in net for Apollo-Ridge, which doesn't have a girls soccer program.

“Not having a high school team, I'm kind of at a disadvantage. I have to do things on my own, but I have a goalkeeping trainer I work with and also have open gym for basketball in fall to stay in shape,” Bonelli said. “It's a long drive to practice (with Beadling). It's definitely a hassle.”

Those inconveniences haven't done anything to slow down Bonelli, who is rated as a three-star college prospect by TopDrawerSoccer.com. As a member of the ODP team for Region I — one of four regions in U.S. Soccer — she is one tier away from reaching the player pool for her age group's national team.

“It's good that she gets that exposure, and it's a pretty special privilege to go overseas,” said Gene Smith, Bonelli's coach at Beadling. “It's a chance to play with such a high level of players, and she took a lot of pride in getting selected for it.”

The trip to Germany was Bonelli's second tour outside of the U.S. with the regional ODP team, which traveled to Costa Rica in 2013.

The team spent much of the 10-day stay in Germany based around the western city of Saarbrucken and played three matches and a mini-tournament against some of the top German youth club teams. Apart from matches and training sessions, the team also got a chance to explore that region of Germany as well as neighboring Luxembourg and France.

“We trained every other day and had games every other day, and we got to go sightseeing,” Bonelli said. “The competition was very high, and it was cool to see their different style of play. I'd known a couple of the girls on the (ODP) team from being on it the past four years, but I did make a lot of new friends. It was the most amazing experience.”

A soccer player since she was 4 years old, Bonelli said her goalkeeping career started with stopping shots from her older sister during the summer. With her work for Beadling and the ODP team, Bonelli has a good chance to go from making saves in the backyard to doing it for a college program in 2016.

“Can she play at a really high level? Absolutely,” Smith said. “She's a very confident, outgoing person, which are traits you want in a goalkeeper. She wouldn't be at the level she is without good skills, and she's one of the hardest-working practice players I've ever worked with. Some goalkeepers don't like to dive as much in practice, but Megan's always flying around full speed, cutting herself up on the ground, which is sometimes to our dismay.”

Even without the chance to play soccer in Apollo-Ridge colors — she does have basketball to wear the Vikings' logo — Bonelli continues to be driven to push her game toward the college level and beyond.

“I've been to a lot of college camps and talked to coaches,” she said. “I'm hoping to go to a Division I school. I want to keep doing ODP, keep making the regional team and hopefully one day make the national team and have a chance to go pro.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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