Five area soccer teams competed against the nation’s best in Oklahoma last week.
Three Cincinnati United Premier and two Kings Hammer Academy squads earned berths in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships. They competed in Tulsa, earning valuable experience that will propel the club teams into next season and the individual players into their upcoming high school seasons.
Two teams — CUP U18 boys and KHA Red U17 girls — advanced to the semifinals of their respective tournaments. The CUP boys won their group in pool play before falling 1-0 in the semifinal to eventual national champion FC Golden State White (California) on July 25. The KHA girls finished 2-1-0 in their group and lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Beach FC Academy (California) in the semifinal. Haley Jordahl, Haley Moses, and Melanie Langan scored second half goals to push KHA to a 3-2 advantage, but BFC equalized in the 80th minute and controlled the extra time en route to a 5-3 victory.
Also traveling to Oklahoma for CUP were the U14 girls, coached by Bobby Puppione and Kim and Rob Scheper; and U14 boys, coached by John Michael Hayden. KHA also sent its U16 girls, coached by Chris Black.
For most of these teams, it was their first trip to the USYSNCS. The tournament proved to be a great learning experience and measuring stick.
“There were many things that were firsts and unknowns for us. The level of play is so high and every game got harder and harder. This is different than any other event we had competed in all year,” KHA girls executive director and U17 coach Tiffany Roberts said. “This made the tournament awesome, as our team had to continue to get better every day. They had to make adjustments from game to game and did an amazing job at making sure they were organized and set themselves up to compete.”
The younger teams return home feeling more confident after their first national championship tournament experience.
“The boys now know not to be intimidated by anyone in the country,” said CUP boys director of coaching Scott Bower . “We can walk into a group with the two national finalists and a Celtics club that was in the final four last year and compete with all three teams without ever really playing our best soccer.”
All the teams, and especially the U14 squads, are eager to make a return trip to the tournament next year. Qualifying will again be a challenge, but it is one that each squad embraces.
“Going to nationals for the first time with this team was a great experience,” said CUP girls director of coaching Bobby Puppione. “It gave our girls a taste of what it is like, and now we can return home with a hunger to make a repeat trip to the event next year. It is going to take a lot of hard work, attention to detail in training, and sacrifice, but I believe our girls have a good opportunity to make it again.”
Playing at such a high level gave these players a mental edge as they prepare for their high school seasons. The upperclassmen will begin their seasons with the sharp focus of playing pressure-packed soccer on the national stage.
“I hope this experience will allow these girls to continue to be leaders in their respective high school programs and raise the bar for soccer in this area,” said Roberts. “This group has many great leaders and I think each of their high school programs is fortunate to have each of them within their programs to help lead and push them forward.”
The underclassmen also have an edge. Not many high school freshmen have the kind of experience that the U14 CUP players gained last week.
“Our hope is that their high school coaches now don’t look at them as just freshmen and put them on junior varsity squads,” said Bower. “These are the only high school freshmen in the state of Ohio with national finals experience. This cannot be duplicated in another environment. Hopefully this helps them get an opportunity right away. After this, it’s up to them to keep their job.”
CUP GU14: Becky Dean, Bridget Logan, Megan Oduyoye, Brittany Duncan, Anna Podojil, Kennidy Belle, Janie Reiring, Aliyah El-Naggar, Paige Elliott, Adrianna Brewer, Kate Larbes, Jordyn Rhodes, Eva Kiper, Katelynn Setters, Olivia Scheper and Haley Miller.
CUP BU14: Ryan Burig, Connor Wilson, Ty Kirrsin, Michael Noll, Luke Rockwood, Tony Buechly, Andrew Smith, Skyler Meyer, John Grinstead, Ben Hegge, Isaac Brooks, Brennan Callow, Riley Shanks, Nick Krueger, Samuel Kunkemoeller and Nathan Deimling.
KHA U16: Abby Brown, Ally Brown, Payton Black, Sidney Spivey, Mayson Tranter, Harper Lamb, Jenna Prathapa, Sophie Gorman, Hannah Poe, Maria Schilling, Ellie Vandergriff, Caitlyn Grooms, Caroline Walton, Christin Sherrard, Sarah Schuh, Jessica DeJesus and Mikayla Jung.
KHA U17: Camille Williams, Elizabeth Greenwell, Caroline Mink, Mary Alf, Michelle Washburn, Haley Moses, Peyton Cook, Carly Noel, Alexandra Carrier, Alex Powell, Jamiera Lunsford, Haley Jordahl, Hannah Fischer, Meredith Glover, Melanie Langan, Anna Richards, Samantha Damante and Toni Bizzarro.
CUP U18: Drew Grisham, Logan Wiedmann, Brennon Shanks, Gary Zhao, Daniel Bundschuh, Max Pochobradsky, Evan Cusmano, Bryce Curran, Nate Gibson, William Cohen, Brendan Jones, Dan Schleitweiler, Mohammed Elmardi, Luke Treadway, Christian Lytle, Alex Besl, JJ Iroh, David Jeffries and Peter Cinibulk.