The US Youth Soccer National League features a very talented and accomplished field of teams in the Under-17 Girls age group, as the four Regional Champions and the defending US Youth Soccer National Champion are all set to compete in the league. DMCV Sharks Elite (CA-S), the 2013 National Champions, are out to claim the Blue Division title, but they know they’re in for a challenge.
DMCV Sharks are aided by the solid play of 2013 Golden Glove winner Melissa Lowder, who helped the California side to a penalty kick shootout win in the National final. Best XI honorees Maegan Gibson and Crystal Cordova could be key players at forward for the Sharks. With an abundance of tough, familiar competition, DMCV Sharks head coach Felicia Kappes knows her team needs to be on top of its game from the first whistle.
"The team wants to work hard to defend its National Championship. They’re cognizant of the fact it’s hard to do," Kappes said. "You need to do well the first week in North Carolina. Last year we were relatively new and not many teams knew who we were. We were able to go 4-0 in North Carolina to put ourselves in good position. Now, teams know us, and we have a target on our backs."
One of the teams that knows Sharks well and could challenge the defending champions is Legends FC (CA-S). Legends defeated Sharks, 2-1, in the Region IV Championship final and dropped a close 1-0 decision to Sharks at Nationals to miss out on the final. Legends works through midfielder Peyton Perea, a U.S. National Team pool player, who scored both goals in her side’s 2-1 win in the Region IV title game.
Region II Champions NSA Jaguars (IL) could also make a run at a Blue Division title after proving they can hang with anyone with several tight games at Nationals. The stingy defense of Region II runner-up Futura FC 96/97 Academy Premier (MO) could make it a tough matchup for anyone in the division, as well.
In the Red Division, National finalist Kings Hammer Academy (OH-S) appears to be a top contender for the title. KHA brings a balanced lineup to the field, with Golden Ball winner Lauren Nemeroff and a trio of ODP Region II players in Katie Murray, Payton Atkins and Bayley Feist leading the way.
Alexandra Thomas and Kassandra Ortega lead Region III Champion 97 Louisiana Fire Navy (LA), which should contend for one of the top spots in the Red Division. Thomas scored nine goals at Regionals and added three at Nationals, while Ortega scored four at Nationals — tied for second most at the tournament. Toms River FC Elite United 96/97 (NJ) also showed it can string together some wins on its way to a Region I Championship. Amanda Carolan will be a threat to score for Toms River after she found the back of the net four times at Nationals and twice in the Region I Championship final.
With many talented teams and individuals — including more than a dozen US Youth Soccer ODP Regional players — the Under-17 Girls group is set up to include plenty of competitive soccer.
Kappes said she’s excited to see how her team handles the pressure, both physically and psychologically, of having every team gun for them. With college-caliber players on every team in each division, she knows any squad is capable of going on a run and having their season end the way the Sharks’ did last year — with a National Championship.
"The winner could be any one of these teams. Kings Hammer is an incredible team; same with Legends," Kappes said. "The National League definitely has some of the best teams in the country. We can’t rest on anything we did last year. It will be very difficult to get out of our bracket."
After four crucial opening games in North Carolina are complete, the teams will a clearer picture of who may rise to the top of their division. But for now, they can only wait and prepare for their shot to show they belong among the top teams in the country.
Players to watch…
Abbie Boswell (NSA Jaguars): Led Region II Championships with six goals
Alexandra Thomas (Louisiana Fire): ODP Region III; Led Region III Championships with nine goals
Kassandra Ortega (Louisiana Fire): Four goals at Nationals
Cadie Higginson (Louisiana Fire): ODP Region III
Noelle Higginson (Louisiana Fire): ODP Region III
Eleanor Pratt (Louisiana Fire): ODP Region III
Amanda Carolan (Toms River): Two goals in Region I Championship final; Four goals at Nationals
Peyton Perea (Legends FC): U.S. National Team pool; ODP Region IV; Two goals in Region IV Championship final
Katie Murray (Kings Hammer): ODP Region II
Payton Atkins (Kings Hammer): ODP Region II
Bailey Feist (Kings Hammer): ODP Region II
Melissa Lowder (DMCV): ODP Region IV, Golden Glove Winner, Best XI at Nationals
Mackenzie Kober (Farmingdale): ODP Region I
Kaitlin Loughren (Farmingdale): ODP Region I
Erin Neville (Farmingdale): ODP Region I
Reighan Childers (Futura): ODP Region II