COLLEGE HILL – Watching the United States fly by Japan and win the Women’s World Cup, 5-2, on July 5, was the perfect precursor for the Cincinnati West Soccer Club U17 girls’ team in search of its own championship at the President’s Cup National Tournament in Overland Park, Kan., July 9-12.
Everyone saw a team play for each other, free of ego, and overflowing camaraderie. It was the perfect reminder of why the members of Cincinnati West play the international game.
Cincinnati West SC teammates Sammie Petri and Ashley Kuchenbuch watched in their own way, brimming with excitement. Petri and Kuchenbuch are also teammates at McAuley High School.
“It (World Cup final) got me so excited to come down here and play hard for my team,” said Petri, who will be a senior.
Kuchenbuch, a junior, said, “My parents make me go down in the basement and watch it by myself because I yell at the TV.”
Ashley and Sammie have been watching and playing soccer as long as they can remember. Both were introduced to the game by family. Petri has played for Cincinnati West SC since she was 7 years old; Kuchenbuch’s in her first season with the club.
Kuchenbuch’s thankful Petri was around to help her transition to a new squad. “She (Sammie) was the only person I knew on the (Cincinnati West) team,” Ashley said, adding Sammie is someone “I’ve always looked up to.”
Kevin Spraul, Cincinnati West’s U17 coach and director of coaching, said this team is different than what he’s used to in club soccer.
“This team, it’s completely different this year. They all hang out outside of soccer,” Spraul explained. “A lot of our success has been built on team chemistry.”
Spraul described Petri and Kuchenbuch: “(Ashley’s) solidified a starting position at outside back, so she anchors our back line. She’s a work horse, very fast, very smart and technical. Sammie’s one of the very few who’s actually stuck around (a true team veteran). She can play any position, like a little engine in the midfield; a vocal leader, one of the better technical players on our team. Both of them have really contributed to this team and where we are today.”
Years ago, had you told Petri and Kuchenbuch their Cincinnati West team would make an appearance at nationals, neither would have believed.
“I don’t think anyone on our team thought we would make it this far,” Kuchenbuch said, adding “It’s just so surreal we’re here.”
Petri’s happy to be healthy, let alone running and playing the sport she loves on such a grand stage. Petri’s had to recover from two major injuries in the last three years. She said she tore “everything” in her knee her freshman year at McAuley, which sidelined her nine months. Then, her sophomore year, she suffered another tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and missed her entire sophomore year.
“I would have said there’s no possible way (CWSC would make nationals), I never would have thought I’d be here or even playing soccer ever again,” Petri said.
Spraul said just coming back from those injuries says a lot about her.
“She’ll run through a brick wall for her team. Any kid would probably quit soccer after a torn ACL or two and she’s come back stronger than ever. That’s what we like about her; she has an attitude that nothing is going to stop her,” he said.
According to Spraul, the U17 girls’ team is the first team to make it to nationals in Cincinnati West’s history. In its first game at nationals July 9, Cincinnati West played Pennsylvania East to a scoreless draw. In its second game of the tournament on July 10, Cincinnati beat Charlotte, N.C. 3-0 with goals from Petri, Kelsea Kinnett and Claire Herzog. Spraul said his team has gone 535 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal. With a win or draw on July 11, Cincinnati West will reach the final.