The Under-15 Girls open the season with three of the four Regional Champions in the field, including both National Finalists. Region I and National Champion MSC Coyotes Green (MD) lead the charge, but don’t count out Region III Champion and National Finalist Tennessee SC 16 (TN), formerly TNFC 98 Azzurri, or Region II Champion Ambassadors FC (OH-N). Although MSC carries the National crown, Tennessee finished preliminary play with a better record, which included a 2-0 victory over MSC before falling by the same score in the final. Region II Champion Ambassadors FC (OH-N) will also contend as they finished National Championships preliminary play tied with MSC on points, but lost out on a spot in the final due to goal differential.
Region III Finalists Liverpool 98 Elite (N-TX) will also be eyeing the top of the tables, as will Regional semifinalists Ponte Vedra Storm (FL), Legends FC (CA-S) and Carlsbad Elite 97/98 (CA-S).
"I think the girls are very proud of what they’ve accomplished," said MSC Coyotes Green Head Coach Alex Gould. "Before we even made the run (to the National Championship), we were talking a year ahead when we had parent meetings and we said, ‘What are we looking to do as we get beyond this?’ The National League was certainly one of the goals. Once we won the National Championship, we knew we were going to be in the National League. Everyone’s very excited for it and it means a lot to them. It’s a little bit of a reward.
"It was exciting for us when we got to Nationals because we hadn’t seen any of the teams before. We stick to the East Coast for the most part, so we kind of end up seeing a lot of the same top teams. There is good competition, but the National League will provide us with the chance to see some great teams that are different than we’re used to. For this first event, we’re not going to know any of these teams that we’re playing. It should be exciting."
Highlighting the Blue Division, MSC is led by 2012 National Championships Golden Ball winner and Best XI player Paula Germino-Watnick and Golden Glove winner Naomi Gross. Elizabeth Coletti led the team at the Region I Championships with four goals, good for second best in the age group. Emma Anderson also added three goals in Lancaster and Clare Severe, Kristen Bissell and Julia Abbott contributed goals at Nationals.
Tennessee SC 16 should be the early favorite in the Blue Division. Region III ODP players and Best XI awardees Karlie Paschall and Meredith Slessman highlight a potent attack that scored 17 goals at the Region III Championships. Slessman tied for the scoring lead with six total, while Paschall chipped in four as the Tennessee defense shutout every opponent in the Regional knock-out rounds. The only blemish on their postseason record came in the National final after finishing atop the group with a win and two draws.
Drawn into the Blue Division alongside MSC is Region II champ Ambassadors FC (OH-N). Ambassadors overcame an opening day loss at the Region II Championships to advance all the way to Nationals, where their only other loss came on the final day of preliminary play to MSC, knocking Ambassadors out of the final. Sarah Krause led all scorers at Regionals with seven goals and was named a Best XI player at Nationals along with Sydney Hamker.
If history is any indication, the rest of the field will have plenty to prove versus last year’s Regional Champions. Teams will have to be capable of putting together a consistent run of form to finish at the top of the tables and all will be shooting for MSC’s trophy at the end of the year. Will MSC be the team to beat?
"I would think so. I certainly would be very excited to play a team that just won (the National Championship). Teams want to prove they can beat the best teams. Every game is going to be like that this whole year with the title we have. That’s just something that goes with winning," said Gould.
"Getting to the National Championships is a natural goal, everyone is looking at it. We’d love to be able to take care of that goal by March. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll do our best to win State Cup and try to get back to Regionals and see if we can do it again. Our goal is to try and win the National League and get right back to where we were this past summer.
"We have the same group of players that just won the National Championship, so we feel good about our group. I guess now that we’ve been through some very tough games, we had our backs up against the wall in the National Championships, so I think the girls have been in hostile environments before. I think they’re ready for whatever challenges they get."
Other Players to Watch:
Amanda Wilson (MSC Coyotes): Region I ODP player
Mackenzie Peebles (Tennessee SC): Region III ODP player
Olivia Sency (Ambassadors FC): Region II ODP player
Sunny Dunphy (Carlsbad Elite): Region IV ODP and U.S. National Pool member
Dani Greenlee (Liverpool): Region III ODP and U.S. National Pool member
Julie Lester (Tampa Bay United): Region III ODP player