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Last year’s National Championship finalists head each division of the Under-18 Girls as Legends FC (CA-S) claimed the division title last season with a 5-0-2 record ahead of VSA Heat Blue (VA), who finished 4-0-3 after the two drew 0-0 in league play. Both advanced to the National Championship game, VSA as Region I Champions, where VSA exacted revenge with a ruthless 6-0 victory in which Legends simply couldn’t get their feet under them. Last year’s divisional runner-up and Region II semifinalist Michigan FC, Lou Fusz Wipke (MO), formerly JB Marine Wipke, and Herndon Firecats (VA) will challenge Legends for the Blue Division. League newcomer and Region II Champion Team Chicago Botafogo (IL), Region II finalist North Shore United (WI) and Blast FC (OH-S) should push VSA for the Red title.
"We’re really excited about going down to Raleigh," said VSA Heat Blue Head Coach Steve Smith.
"You definitely play the best teams from the country, so I think there’s a standard and to get into the League is extremely difficult. I think it’s important that each team earns their spot."
Smith stressed the importance of competing in the National League as part of their successful run at the National Championships and having 16 players committed to play NCAA Division I college soccer.
"I think the biggest thing is we want to play the best competition, and obviously the National League provides that. We want to give the girls an environment where they can prepare themselves to play at the next level at college."
"You get to compete against the best players around the country in the National League, and I think that really brings out the best in the girls and in our team. Every game last year, we were close, and the girls had to be really focused mentally and physically to do their job. I think National League really prepared us for when we went to the National Championship last summer."
"To get back to the National Championships? I think it’d be the culmination of everything, it’d be huge. When we came together to start training for the season, the girls said that their goal was to get to Nationals. They’re very focused, so I think it would be the icing on the cake."
It’s not hard to find out where VSA’s success starts. During the 11-12 National League season, VSA conceded just three goals while scoring just eight en route to an undefeated second place finish. VSS advanced to the National Championships as Region I Champions, where West Virginia commit Daniela Neves led all scorers with four. At Nationals, the team shutout all four opponents and exploded for 14 goals in four games. James Madison commit Ashley Herndon led all scorers in South Carolina with four, while Christina Corbin (Coastal Carolina) added two and eight other players added a goal. Awarded for winning the National Championship without being scored on, defender Megan Cox (James Madison) was awarded the Golden Ball while keeper Taylor Kerxton (Wake Forest) won Golden Glove. Vanessa Kovar (South Carolina) was also named to the Best XI team.
"I think the goal is to try to get one of the two berths to Nationals. We want to finish in the top two," said Smith. "We know we’ve got a big target on our back being the champs from this past summer, so we’re going to have to stay healthy and make sure we come out with our best game every time. It gives us a lot of motivation to get back out to National Championships in July.
"Nationals was top-class, well run. The best event I’ve ever been to. The venue was amazing, the banquet was top-class, it was a once in a lifetime experience for myself and all the girls on the team."
Knowing they had to win out in Las Vegas last season to clinch the division, Legends FC ran off three victories to cap the second best goal total in league history with 22 scored, 3.14 per game. National’s Best XI honoree Ally Moon led the team with five goals during the National League season, tied for second best in the age group, and Seattle Univ. commit Emily Castellano added four. Best XI player MeiLessah Rangel led the team with two goals at Nationals.
Michigan FC was just two points away from a division crown last year and fell short of the National Championships as they were ousted in the Region II Championships semifinals by Team Chicago. Michigan will try to put the heat on Legends in the Blue Division, and they’ll need the services of Ava Doetsch (Nebraska – Omaha) and Vija Veinbergs (Indiana) to get over the hump. Doetsch led the team and finished second in scoring at Regionals with four goals, while
Veinbergs led the team last National League season with four scored.
Region II Champion Team Chicago Botafogo dropped a 2-1 decision in their last preliminary game of the National Championships which left them out of the title game. Botafogo is loaded with future college talent that includes players headed to the ACC, Big 10, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC conferences. Miami (Fla.) commit Gianna Dal Pozzo led her team in scoring at Nationals with two goals, while U.S. National Team pool member Zoe Swift (Kentucky) led all scorers at Regionals with five. Ashley Handwork (Marquette) and Bryce Banuelos (West Virginia) also contributed three goals each in the Region II run. Despite all the talent, no Team Chicago players were named to the Best XI team at Nationals, but U.S. National Team pool members Jenna Romano (Wake Forest) and Zoey Goralski (UCLA) will also play big roles.
"The National League has really made it a competitive environment for our girls. They know when they step on the field they’re going to have to bring their best game, otherwise we’re not going to be successful," said Smith. "Every game is a tough one, and I think that’s the important part of it, being able to compete and knowing that that’s going to transfer to when they go to college."
More Players to Watch:
Rose Lavelle (CUP Crew Jrs): Region II ODP player and Wisconsin commit
Kelly Neeb (CUP Crew Jrs): Region II ODP player and Auburn commit
Haley Gribler (CUP Crew Jrs): Region II ODP player and Lee Univ. commit
Brenna Mason (Empire Revolution): Region I ODP player and Colgate commit
Jade Klump (Lou Fusz): Region II ODP player and Kentucky commit
Melanie Donaldson (Lou Fusz): Region II ODP player and Missouri commit