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Olympian Crystal Dunn fondly recalls youth in Rockville Centre

Crystal Dunn, a Rockville Centre native and member

Crystal Dunn, a Rockville Centre native and member of the 2016 U.S. Women's Olympic soccer team, is presented with a handmade replica of the Olympic torch from members of the RVC Legacy youth soccer league during a ceremony honoring Dunn at Hempstead State Park on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Photo Credit: James Escher

It takes a village to make it to the Olympic Village, and in Crystal Dunn’s case, that village is Rockville Centre.

In an emotional thank you to the coaches, family members and friends who made her berth possible, Dunn, who will be part of the U.S. women’s soccer team in this year’s Rio Olympics, paid homage to her hometown — the place she moved to when she was 2 years old and the place that, despite a nomadic existence as a professional athlete, she still calls home.

“I understand what this town has done for me,” she said Wednesday evening in a sendoff ceremony on the soccer field at RVC Park in Rockville Centre. “If my parents hadn’t moved here, I don’t even know if I would have played soccer . . . I’m so happy to be back. This is my home.”

Dunn was surrounded by old high school teammates, teachers from all parts of her soccer career and burgeoning young athletes. She was feted by Mayor Francis Murray, coaches from South Side High School, and handed a prop Olympic torch by girls from RVC Legacy youth soccer. In turn, Dunn, 24, was reflective, humorous, and, in at least two instances, broke down in tears recounting what the people of the town meant to her.

She sometimes forgets to thank her youth coaches at events like these, she admitted, before professing her admiration for them — people, she said, like John Gould and John Gallagher, who eventually broke the news to Dunn that she couldn’t play every position on the field.

“They taught me so much about the game before I even knew how much I loved it,” she said. “I remember when they told me I had to be in a set position, I cried, because I didn’t want to be in a set position.”

She laughed — her versatility is one of her most attractive traits as a player, and she can play defense, midfield and forward — before becoming somber.

“Mr. Gould is not with us anymore,” she said, her voice choked with emotion. “I know when he passed away I was just sad that I wasn’t in Rockville Centre to attend his funeral (in 2014) . . . But it was moments like that, the simple moments of just being young again and playing this game, it means a lot.”

Dunn’s career has been illustrious by any standard. She led South Side to three state championships, and, in her last high school hurrah, scored three goals in the first 20 minutes of the state final, and finished with four. A Newsday Long Island player of the year, she continued her domination at the University of North Carolina, and was drafted first overall in 2014.

She plays with the Washington Spirit, and if there has been a disappointment, it came at the international level when last year she was cut from the World Cup team.

“I was super upset,” she said, adding that her parents, Rhonda and Vincent, kept her grounded. “They were the first two picking me up and dusting me off. They always told me it’s not the end of the road and really great things are going to come my way.”

That much was clear Wednesday, when the mayor finished his speech with a heartfelt proclamation: “Rockville Centre is proud of you, Crystal Dunn.”

Her South Side high school coach, Judi Croutier, was inclined to agree. “We’ve seen your magic here at Rockville Centre,” she said. “Next month we’ll all be watching to see the magic you create in Rio. Rockville Centre is ready.”

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