Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan . Mill Creek's Lauren Tanner has been selected as the Daily Post's girls soccer player of the year.
Like athletes in many other college sports, women's soccer players -- both current and future -- often look for outlets to hone and improve their skills during the summer offseason.
To that end, five former high school standouts from Gwinnett County have found such an outlet in the Atlanta Silverbacks' entry in the United Soccer Leagues' W-League women's developmental league.
The league offers a unique opportunity in that it is an open league that gives women's college players an opportunity to play alongside established international players while maintaining their collegiate eligibility.
This summer, Gwinnett grads Kansas Bayly of Columbus State (Parkview), Brooke Bortles of Clayton State (North Gwinnett), Washida Blackman of Mercer (Brookwood) and a pair of incoming University of Georgia freshman in 2013 Daily Post Girls Player of the Year Lauren Tanner of Mill Creek and first-team All-County selection Rachel Garcia of GAC are taking advantage of the opportunity.
"I think it's great," said Tanner, who scored 37 goals and added nine assists in helping the Hawks to their first Region 7-AAAAAA title this past spring. "Everything's intense, but it's fun, too. ... There are three or four of us on the team that are coming right out of high school. Most of the players are either done with college or are (rising) juniors or seniors. So, it's a great experience to see the level of play an the speed and get acclimated (to the college game)."
Indeed, incoming freshmen like Tanner and Garcia, who posted a Gwinnett-best 53 goals and 19 assists in helping the Spartans to a Class AA state runner-up finish, are among the biggest beneficiaries of the league by getting adjusted to the pace and skill level of college soccer.
But the older players like Bayly, Bortles and Blackman also get a chance to work on their repective games.
So far, both of the youngsters have shown they're learning quickly during the Silverbacks' season this summer.
Garcia was tied for second on the team with three goals and ranked third with six total points in five games heading into Friday's game at Dayton, the first of two games with the Dutch Lions this weekend, while Tanner had seen action in 37 minutes while being limited to just two games.
"I joined a little late (in the season), and I've been a little busy at the beginning with graduation and other things," Tanner said. "And I won't play on the Ohio trip, but I do plan on finishing the season. There's a lot of things (the league) teaches us."
One of the biggest things Garcia and Tanner may be learning from their experience with the Silverbacks this summer is each other.
As future teammates at Georgia, the duo have learned a lot about each other's game and how they may mesh together.
"It does help," Tanner said. "I actually did learn a lot from her."