Some of the best metro-area high school athletes get to don a red, white and blue uniform instead of their school's. Instead of conference or state titles, they compete for the same thrill that European soccer teams have been experiencing this year and Olympic stars will take in later this month. On a day for waxing patriotic, three Twin Cities athletes talk about what it's like to play for their country. Samantha Seliger Swenson

Mere minutes after walking through the door to her Minnetonka home after a week-long volleyball tournament in Orlando, 15-year-old Samantha Seliger Swenson tore open a large box that had been awaiting her return.

It contained athletic wear -- jerseys, warm-ups, socks, shorts, shoes, knee-pads jackets -- all emblazoned with the Team USA logo and her name.

"I tried it all on right away," said Seliger Swenson, who is considered one of the top youth volleyball setters in the nation. "I remember watching the youth national team in Arizona last summer and thinking it would be so cool to have my last name on the back of one of those jerseys. It was pretty exciting."

Seliger Swenson plays high school volleyball at Hopkins, where her mother, Vicki, is the head coach. This month she'll be one of 12 girls age 16-and-under who will play for Team USA in the European Global Challenge tournament in Croatia in July. She leaves on July 10 to join her team in New York, then will travel and train in Italy for five days before the tournament.

Her biggest concern, she said, has been trying to grasp the magnitude of the trip she's about to take.

"It's an unbelievable feeling to think that me, from suburban Minnesota, is going to represent our country," she said. "I love volleyball, but I never knew it could take me anywhere. Only 12 girls in the entire country have this chance. It's such an amazing honor."

A trip to Europe with her club volleyball team last summer has made her aware that touring Americans can be lightning rods for emotion. That experience has made her determined to portray her country in the best possible light.

"The people over there either come up to you and talk to you and ask to take pictures or they just scowl and walk past," she said. "I'm looking forward to not only winning -- hopefully -- but also showing that Americans can be respectful and classy. I want to represent the U.S.A. in a positive way."


Jenna Roering

A female soccer player who counted national team stars Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan among her biggest influences, Centennial's Jenna Roering earned the thrill of following in their path.

Invited as a 16-year-old to the U.S. Under-18 women's national team training camp last October in Carson, Calif., Roering took part in a week's worth of top-flight competition and instruction set against a red, white and blue backdrop.

"The goal my whole life was to go to a national camp so getting to go was one of my biggest achievements," said Roering, who was the youngest player in the camp. "The competition was amazing. Some of those girls will for sure be on the Olympic team someday."

Roering will lead the Cougars as a senior this fall and committed to play at Santa Clara University. She hopes to reach the Olympic level and build on her national camp experiences.

Seeing the Team USA logo, whether on the walls of the training center, on her practice jersey or on her polo shirt, instilled Roering with a greater sense of pride.

"When we would clap and do cheers we would always say, 'USA,'" Roering said. "It for sure felt like we were training for a future U.S. team."

Added incentive came from a meeting with Wambach, one of Roering's long-time soccer influences. Her message for Roering and other young players provided a glimpse into how, a few months earlier, she headed a ball into the Brazil goal deep within overtime to force a tie in World Cup play.

"She told us never to give up on trying to come back," Roering said. "And she said it's about the team first."

Roering participated in the camp despite a leg injury and said the rich experience eased her having to miss Centennial's Class 2A state tournament quarterfinal victory.

The camp brought her closer to her soccer heroines, she said, because "it makes you feel like you went through a part of what they went through."


Seth Gross

Seth Gross picked a heck of a way to break his streak of consecutive days spent within North America.

With his freestyle victory at 58 kilograms (127.75 pounds) in the FILA Cadet national championships in early June, Gross advances to the world championships next month. His first visit overseas will take him to Azerbaijan, a country of 9 million people that borders Iran.

"I don't even know how far away that is or how long it's going to take to get there," Gross said. "But I'm excited to go. It means a lot to take all the talents God gave me over there and see how I do against all those guys from other countries."

Gross, who will be a junior at Apple Valley in the fall, is the defending Class 3A champion at 120 pounds. He placed third at 103 as a freshman and has a handful of other honors from USA Wrestling in the freestyle and Greco Roman divisions.

His latest victory, though, is one to cherish.

"It was the one tournament this year I wanted to win badly more than anything," Gross said. "As soon as the high school season ended, I started training hard for this."

Gross took a much shorter flight, to Colorado, last weekend for some added training at the Olympic Training Center where former Eagles teammate Destin McCauley is now.

At the world championships, Gross will have a familiar face along for the long ride, too. St. Michael-Albertville's Tommy Thorn, a two-time state champ who defeated Gross at state in 2011, will represent the USA at 50 kilograms (110.25 pounds).

"I'm kind of nervous, but since we're with a team it won't be so bad," Gross said. "I just want to get over there. I'm hoping to place in the top five. I don't know how good some of these guys are but I know what I can do."