When now soon-to-be 18-year-old Ali Demiralp came with his mother and sister to the United States from his native Turkey just over four years ago, there were a number of challenges to overcome. The completely new environment, his father still being in Turkey, a significant language barrier, almost immediately starting high school and trying to assimilate as a soccer player onto a traditionally strong Torrey Pines boys’ team.
Four years later, with his father having rejoined the family, Demiralp is fluent in his second language, performing admirably in the classroom and not only a starting midfielder but one of the captains on Torrey Pines’ No. 1-ranked (CIF) boys’ team that is well on its way to a third consecutive Avocado West League title. He’s clearly earned the respect of his Head Coach Andy Hargreaves.
“As a player, Ali is physical, a strong tackler, good playmaker and reads the field well—he sees the whole game,” says Hargreaves. “He’s also very task-oriented. You give him something to work on and he does it—he’s very dedicated.” Hargreaves has also been impressed with his development off the pitch.
“I think his personality is still evolving,” he said. “There’s obviously a time period for adjustment with the kind of change he had going from Turkey to the U.S.
“But as one of our captains, he’s become a very good leader. He’s positive, demanding, makes good points and is a good locker room presence.” Senior teammate and co-captain Ted Merrifield feels Demiralp impacts the team in an assortment of ways.
“Ali’s a terrific player, a workhorse, and really has that leadership quality,” said Merrifield. “He’s loud on the field and can really take hold of the atmosphere and make it our game.
“He’s got the respect of every single player and that Turkish kind of grit—he’s resilient and won’t stop until the job is done.”
After being a part-time starter on last year’s Falcon squad that won the Avocado West League, reached the CIF Open Division semi-finals and won the CIF’s Southern California Regional Championship, Demiralp has matured into one of the key components in Torrey Pines’ 2019 championship quest.
With the Avocado West schedule in full swing and the CIF Playoffs just over a month away, Demiralp shared his thoughts on a variety of topics, including the differences between Turkey and the United States, how he views being a team captain and his favorite class at Torrey Pines.
Q—How did you get started playing soccer? Were you involved in any other sports in Turkey?
DEMIRALP—My dad introduced me to soccer and I started playing when I was about 5. Through some other parents who were friends of my dad’s, I was able to play for the academy team at Besiktas, as well as Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.
My father was a professional volleyball player so I also did some of that and played basketball, table tennis, tennis and windsurfed. I enjoyed and liked to compete in windsurfing but there’s not much wind in San Diego.
Q—What caused you to focus on soccer?
DEMIRALP—The teamwork that’s required. The feeling you get after winning a long, hard game and sharing that joy with your teammates. Those are special moments.
I liked soccer over the other sports because in Turkey soccer is prominent and considered the most popular. Besides that, I was best at soccer.
Q—Is there a contrast between Turkish-style soccer and what you’ve encountered in the United States?
DEMIRALP—I think the style of play is very different. In Turkey, I was taught in the European style—pass the ball, take touches. In the U.S., it’s more kick the long ball and chase. American players are trying to play more of a European style but at this point, it’s not instinctual.
The American players rely more on their muscles and speed. The soccer IQ is higher in Europe. Our coaches and players at Torrey Pines like to play the European style which is great.
Q—What do you miss most from Turkey?
DEMIRALP—The food. You have no idea how much I miss the food—the kabobs, the salad. I haven’t eaten it for three years and can never get that taste here. Turkey’s meat is “wow.”
I must say that I was introduced to Mexican food and really like it. My staples are burritos and tacos—I love a good California burrito.
I’m a proud Turkish person because I love my country. I love the people and the history. I know there were many fierce and strong people in my family and I just want to become like them.
Q—What do you like about living in the United States?
DEMIRALP—What’s not to like? In Turkey, you’re not free to do a lot of things and you can be punished sometimes for free speech. I don’t think most Americans cherish their freedoms enough.
I also like the diversity. I like learning about new cultures and the U.S. is filled with many cultures. You can go to specific areas like Chinatown or Little Italy where people still live their cultures. It is very interesting.
Q—Do you follow professional soccer? Who are your favorite teams, players?
DEMIRALP—I definitely follow the English Premier League (EPL). Chelsea is my team now. It used to be Manchester United but I gave it up after time. I also follow La Liga and Real Madrid in Spain.
As far as individual players, I’m a (Cristiano) Ronaldo fan. I’m not ashamed to say it. There will be no one like him again, ever.
Q—What has been your most exciting soccer moment at Torrey Pines? Your most embarrassing moment?
DEMIRALP—Most exciting, I would say last year in the Grossmont Tournament against Servite (Anaheim). They were ranked No. 1 in the State and we were No. 2. We scored in the last two minutes and won, 2-1. The excitement and happiness our team had that day is the reason I play soccer.
Most embarrassing? It would have to be when I miss a penalty shot. It’s only happened once at Torrey Pines, this year against San Clemente in a tournament championship game up at Oceanside. I feel I’m really good at PKs and it’s a free shot—you’ve got to score. It was pretty embarrassing but fortunately, our goalkeeper, Nick Bello, made some great saves and bailed me out—for that, he’s the greatest of all-time.
Q—What areas of your game are most improved this year? Where would you still like to get better?
DEMIRALP—I was a little overweight last season. I had a knee injury and surgery after my sophomore year and never fully rehabbed. Over this past summer, I lost weight, came back stronger and faster which has allowed me to have better impact on the field. You know it when I’m there.
Improvement-wise, I think my fitness and speed. My speed is better now but I know I could be even quicker and you can always be in better shape.
Q—What player on your team has a skill you wish you had?
DEMIRALP—Our forward Michael Mines. He’s an explosive player who can go from zero to full speed in about a second. I admire his pace and the impact it allows him to have.
Q—What does it mean for you to be a captain on this year’s Torrey Pines team? How do you see your role in that capacity?
DEMIRALP—This is my third year on the team and I really wanted it. I’ve accomplished a lot as part of the team but to be captain was more of a personal goal and I’m honored to have been selected.
I see my job as putting everybody on the same page, helping create a positive attitude on the team and keeping it up at all times. If the mindset is not right, we won’t win. I talk all the time. If I’m in the game, I’m talking. Communication is key and communication goes through me. I try to be a leader.
Q-- Last year, team lost one game but it was in CIF semi-finals to La Costa Canyon. How did you feel right after that game and how did that loss affect the way the team prepared and plays this season?
DEMIRALP—We had 20 seniors on that team. I was very sad for them and angry with the way we lost. It was an important game and we wanted to win.
It’s affected this season in a positive way. I remember afterward, we gathered and said let’s focus on what’s left and we went out and won the CIF D-II State Championship (Regional). So, in a way, we accomplished an even bigger thing and were the first San Diego team to do that.
This season, our No. 1 goal is to win CIF. We talk about “playing every game like it’s a CIF game.” We know we can win it and I feel we’re a little more focused. Those 20 seniors left a job for us and every single game we’re growing. When we have everybody on the field and are clicking, we’re going to be a force to reckon with, honestly.
Q—How difficult was it to integrate in school and what class have you enjoyed the most at Torrey Pines?
DEMIRALP—Everything was so hard when I got here. I didn’t understand most of what people were saying. It would take me longer to understand, read and write. I didn’t do well in my English class the first year I moved here but I started to read more and listen to music. That helped me improve my English a lot.
I really like history and politics. I would say one of the best classes was AP U.S. History with Mr. (Chris) Drake. I’ve enjoyed history my whole life and knowing where the culture of a country came from makes it easier to understand and relate to it. Through that class, I found I was able to relate to the culture here the more I learned about it.
Q—What plans do you have following graduation?
DEMIRALP—There are lots of options, college-wise, but truthfully, I’m still a bit lost. I do want to play soccer. I have a 3.3 GPA and with a 1450 SAT score, so I should be alright. I’ve been in touch with UC San Diego, USD and the Cal State schools. UCSD would be my dream school.
Q—Outside of soccer and school, what do you enjoy doing?
DEMIRALP—I like playing video games, particularly Overwatch. Some colleges even have Overwatch teams. I would also say fitness. I don’t do a lot of things because with school, homework and soccer, there’s not enough hours in the day. I try to focus on what I’m good at.