Payson High School junior Patrick Karlowski is taking his soccer aspirations to a new level.
Last spring, at the urging of friends, Karlowski hooked up with the United 88s Mesa Soccer Club team that participates in a American Youth Soccer Association league.
Players from Prescott, Payson's Ian Benney and athletes representing Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert were on the team with him.
Karlowski, who started for the Longhorn varsity team as a freshman, says being on the team has allowed him to make new friends.
"(A club team) is the chance to meet other players who like soccer too," he said. "They are all pretty dedicated."
Some of those players, like Benney, took up club soccer at a much earlier age than Karlowski.
"I waited until I was 16 because I wanted to be able to drive to practices," he said. "I didn't want my parents to have to drive me down there."
His schedule now has him traveling to practices twice each week at Quail Run or Hohokam parks and on Saturdays, he is at various Valley locations for league games.
This Saturday, he will participate with his teammates at a tournament at Benedict Park in Tempe.
The team also has competed in tournaments in Tucson and San Diego, California.
The Labor Day trip to California was especially rewarding for Karlowski.
"We played two games a day. That was fun," he said. "And I got to go to the ocean. I had a blast. I hadn't been there in a long time."
In the tournament, the Mesa team advanced to the quarterfinals before eventually being eliminated by a 2-1 loss.
Karlowski anticipates his team will enter even more out-of-state tournaments in the near future.
Playing on the club team and the Longhorn squad, when it begins practices in early November, will result in the PHS star being involved in the sport almost year-round.
Club soccer, however, has had his challenges for Karlowski.
"It's more physical and faster," Karlowski said. "Plus, I'm learning a new position."
On the Longhorn team, he holds down the role of a forward or midfielder and concentrates mostly on offense. On the club team he plays as a stopper on defense.
"It means I'm not up in the attack as much," he said. "It's kind of different."
Also, Karlowski has learned while playing club ball that Payson athletes might be a bit spoiled by the state-of-the-art Fieldturf they play home games on at Rumsey park.
"We play down there (in the valley) on grass and some of it is okay but some fields are not very good," he said. "(At Rumsey) we don't have to worry about holes, ruts and twisting an ankle."
Although club soccer has been a thrill, Karlowski is eagerly looking forward to his junior year on the PHS team.
He anticipates the added experience he's gained will bode well for him once Class 4A Grand Canyon regional action kicks off.
As a freshman, when PHS was in the 3A East region, Karlowski was named all-region second team. Last year, he was honorable mention in the 4A ranks.
This season, even more postseason honors could be rolling in. If that happens, it might help Karlowski eventually attain his goal of earning a college scholarship.
After graduation from PHS, he'd like to play at Yavapai College in Prescott where coach Hugh Bell has built a National Junior College Athletic Association soccer dynasty. The Roughriders are two-time defending national champions.
As important as soccer is to his future, Karlowski also is committed to academics.
An honor student at PHS enrolled in advanced placement classes including calculus, he eventually would like to major in a computer-related field.