A native daughter of Telluride is representing the United States this week at an international soccer tournament in England.
Brooke Denesik, the former Texas Tech captain and defensive standout, was selected for the USA under-23 women’s team competing in the annual Nordic Tournament.
Denesik, a late addition to the 23-player roster for the tournament, has been playing professionally in Kazakhstan following her graduation from Texas Tech last year.
She’s a defender for the dominating BIIK Kazygurt team, the 11-time and reigning champion of Kazakstan’s Women’s Football league. Her team also has advanced through the qualifying round of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
The soccer player with deep Telluride family roots provided an assist in Team USA’s opening match in the U23 Nordic Tournament — a 2-0 victory over Norway earlier this week.
According to father John Denesik, Brooke made her Team USA debut in the second half and led a counterattack down the left sideline. She passed the ball into the box where it was converted for a U.S. goal.
“That was a pretty play,” John Denesik said via text message from Loughborough University in Loughborough, England, site of the weeklong women’s U23 tournament.
The Americans also are scheduled to play England and Sweden in the round-robin event that concludes Sept. 2.
“You work you whole life for chances like this,” Denesik said in an interview with the Texas Tech sports information office. “It’s so rewarding to see everything start to pay off. I can’t wait to learn from some of the best players in the country.”
Denesik, who was born in Telluride, moved to Anthem, Arizona, with her family when she was in elementary school.
She was the first Arizona high school player recruited to play at Texas Tech by coach Tom Stone.
“The modern game requires creativity and playmaking in addition to great defending,” said Stone, who is also a scout for the U.S. Senior National Team. “There are tremendous defenders at the full-team level, but as they begin to retire they need to look at the youth levels for defenders who are creative and playmakers, and I think they see both of those attributes in Brooke.”
Denesik started 81 matches in her career at Texas Tech where she was named team captain as a junior and senior.
She said European professional soccer has expanded her game.
“Playing pro in Europe has been an amazing experience,” Denesik said in the Texas Tech interview. “Not only have I gotten to meet some amazing people and travel the world, but I feel like I have already grown so much as a player.”
The former Red Raider collected her first Champions League point this year, assisting teammate Alina Litvinenko with a cross into the box as Kazygurt beat Flora, a club from Estonia.
“I definitely have been blessed with soccer,” Denesik said in a telephone interview with the Telluride Daily Planet last fall. “We had a great (Texas Tech) team this year. We had so much skill, along with teamwork and … intensity. I didn’t want to see it end.”
The Texas Tech women’s soccer team qualified for the NCAA Tournament, beating Princeton 2-0 in the first round. The Red Raiders lost in a shootout to No. 12 Virginia in the second round in Waco, Texas.
“We made it to the round of 32 my freshman year as well,” Denesik said, adding that it was inspiring to play in the NCAA Tournament again as a senior.
The Red Raiders ended the year 14-6-2.
“I did almost every sport when I was little in Telluride,” said Denesik, who moved from Telluride to suburban Phoenix when she was in third grade. “I really liked hockey.”
Her older sister Jordan was in fifth grade; she went on to play tennis at Northern Arizona University.
While the move to Arizona was difficult at first, Denesik said a dynamic coach at her new club team eased the transition.
“I had a really good coach. She grew my passion for soccer,” Denesik said. “She has such a passion for the game. She was interested in each of us … everyone. And she brought a more competitive environment, a higher level of competition.”
Denesik’s play in the top-flight Phoenix-area soccer club along with all-state honors at Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, Arizona, drew interest from colleges — including Texas Tech, where Denesik earned an accounting degree along with a professional soccer contract.
“I am definitely focused,” Denesik said of her ability to play soccer at a high level and complete her degree at Texas Tech with honors. “I’m a perfectionist and one of the most competitive people in the world.”
She also credits her family.
“I think my dad always wanted a son, so I think he pushed me like a boy,” she said. “But he wasn’t overpowering.”
Mother Debra “is not competitive at all,” she said. “But my sister and I are both super-competitive.”
John Denesik said he knew the family needed to make a change when his two daughters excelled in youth sports in Telluride.
“They played all the sports,” he said. “They were great skiers.”
And they were hungry to compete, said John Denesik, whose brother Ricky Denesik is a legend in the mountain trail running world.
“If you guys are going to excel (athletically), we’re going to have to move,’” John Denesik said. “We have to find a place (with access to advanced youth sports programs). That was 2006.”
The family business was sold, and the Denesiks headed to Arizona. They later added multiple trips to Lubbock, Texas.
And this year, soccer led them to England.