Nicole McClure: “We’re in a really, really tough group. Brazil and Australia are two power houses of women’s football so it’s going to be a challenge.” (Photo courtesy of Nicole McClure)

By Michael Lewis Editor

ATLANTA — While watching the Women’s World Cup draw with some friends in Key West, Fla. Saturday, Nicole McClure admitted she ran the gamut of emotions wondering where Jamaica would be placed and who the Caribbean country would play.

“I was nervous. I was nervous the entire time from start to finish,” she said in a telephone interview. “Any group would be fine. My initial reaction was like: ‘Was this really, really happening?’ I was super excited with a ton of emotions — excitement, nerves, anxiety. I mean, yeah, just a bunch of stuff going on.”

By the time soccer personalities were finished taking balls out of various Pots at La Seine Musicale in Paris, the Jamaica, Queens native and goalkeeper and the rest of the world knew the Reggae Girlz’ fate: they were up against some of the best women’s soccer teams in the world.

The Jamaicans would play Australia, Brazil and Italy in the eighth Women’s World Cup in history. Now, that will be a great challenge for any team, but for a side that will be making its debut in the tournament it appears it would be a hefty task.

McClure? She had another view of Jamaica’s task.

“My initial reaction is bring it on!” she said. “We’re in a really, really tough group. Brazil and Australia are two power houses of women’s football so it’s going to be a challenge. I know Italy is good, too. I’m not sleeping on them at all. I’m super excited. Bring it on!”

While growing up, the 29-year-old McClure played for the East Meadow Shooting Stars and Auburndale in the Long Island Junior Soccer League.

The Caribbean side, ranked lowest (53rd) among the 24 finalists, will face off against No. 10 Brazil in Grenoble June 9, No. 16 Italy in Reims June 14 and No. 6 Australia in Grenoble June 18. The tournament runs from June 7-July 7.

Two of Jamaica’s opponents seemed rather imposing. Australian women’s soccer is on the rise and boasts Chicago Red Stars striker Sam Kerr, a human goal highlight reel who is considered one of the top, if not the best women’s player in the world.

“Super excited to play against her,” McClure said. “That would be amazing. If I could save a shot against her, that would be huge. ”

The same would go for Brazil, arguably the best women’s national side never to win a world championship. Bolstered by the ageless and ultra-talented Marta, the Brazilians have never quite gotten their act together to play consistently but remains a lethal foe for any team.

“That would be great,” McClure said. “She’s a legend, but again, I’m not trying to down play any of her accolades but she’s just another player. We can’t be intimidated against her and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Marta! I’m not going to go into this tackle.’

“We’re going to have to treat those games like any other game, forget about the names. Just go out there and do our best and fight hard for our country.”

McClure was in Key West with two good friends celebrating her national team’s accomplishment of qualifying for the 24-team competition for the first time. Her hotel did not have FS2 on its TV channel list, so they found a local pub that did. They watched the hour-long draw with much anticipation and excitement.

Her vacation in Florida would be McClure’s last hurrah before commencing some personal training to prepare for the World Cup.

“Two of my really good friends, they actually came down from New York and Colorado to celebrate with me,” she said. “It’s kind of a neat experience having me make the World Cup and me watching the draw. So, it was really cool having two close friends watching with me.”

The 5-8 McClure played a vital role in helping Jamaica qualify for the WWC at the Concacaf women’s championship in Frisco, Texas in October, making two saves during a penalty-kick shootout against Panama in the third-place match.

The first training camp is scheduled for mid-January with details TBD. McClure assumed it would be in Jamaica although sometimes the team has practiced in Orlando, which is the home of Jamaica head coach Hue Menzies, who also is the executive director of the Florida Kraze Krush.

McClure admitted it was difficult not to train after she competed her club season in Europe.

“I wanted to take the entire month of November off, but being the competitive athlete that I am, the last week of November I started training, started running and doing agility, the light weights,” she said. “It’ll get way more intense after this vacation that I’m currently on. Now, it’s time to get back to work, starting Tuesday. Maybe a little bit further after that because they have a parade for us in Jamaica next week.

That’s right. On Saturday, Dec. 15, McClure and her Reggae Girlz teammates will be honored with a parade in Jamaica. That includes a meet and greet with the minister of sport and congratulatory dinners.

McClure most recently performed for Sundsvall DFF in Sweden, but she doesn’t have a team at the moment. She said that she wants to concentrate on preparing for France. After all, it must be considered a once in a lifetime experience.

“Right now, I’m super focused on Jamaica,” she said. “I don’t have a club team right now. I haven’t signed with anyone. Right now the priority is to prepare for this World Cup starting January. Everything else will fall into place. Right now my priority is on Jamaica.”