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WILSON, N.C. (Nov. 29, 2012) – The top teams in the country lived up to their billing today as some intense battles got the sixth season of US Youth Soccer National League Girls play underway in Wilson, N.C. All 16 teams in each of the Under-15, Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 Girls age groups kicked off 2012-2013 National League play at Wilson Gillette Soccer Complex, Barton College and Fike High School.
National League teams earn their place in the league based on a proven track record of success in US Youth Soccer regional and national competitions and are among the nation's best. Competing for a league title and a spot in the US Youth Soccer National Championships, each and every game will play into who represents the National League this summer in Overland Park, Kan.
Nearly 300 collegiate coaches are expected to attend this National League weekend to scout some of the top teams and players in the country, citing the competitive level of each game as every team has to earn their spot in the competition, regardless of location or club affiliation.
Defending division champs and National finalist Under-16 Kings Hammer Academy (OH-S) picked up right where they left off last year, with a shutout victory, defeating PWSI Courage 96 Red (VA), 3-0. Kings advanced all the way to the National Championship game last summer where they fell to the other National League divisional champion, Legends FC (CA-S). They have one goal in 2012-2013, and that is to get back into position to avenge their finals loss last year.
"We knew it was going to be hard coming in," said Kings Hammer Academy Head Coach Jon Pickup. "I felt in the second half today we put away most of our opportunities, so that was different than the first half where we missed a few. I thought PWSI dominated the first 10 minutes, but once we got through that we seemed to do okay.
"We’ve come here with the same approach as last year, which is to make it to the National Championships. Whether that’s first or second in the division, I’d be happy with that given the competition we’re up against. It’s a goal of ours to go back again and hopefully face the Legends like we did last year, but with a different result maybe. But, it’s just great playing this competition at this level. This is a great environment and we’re glad to be a part of it.
"I think the biggest thing in the National League is the speed of play and for girls that haven’t played at this level before, they struggle to get used to. It’s definitely a lot faster technically and tactically and the whole environment takes it to a new level. There is no easy game in the National League. The whole environment from US Youth Soccer and the guys behind the scenes is at a different level. It’s something that really excites us and we love being a part of."
Kings has already had players commit to college programs, and Pickup credits the level of play from competing in the National League as a major contributor to the opportunities for his players.
"The environment and the pressure right now at U-16, with these college coaches on the sidelines, the girls have to get used to that," said Pickup. "It was unbelievable last year as U-15’s. We came into the National League last year thinking we were going to enjoy our year and get ready for the college stuff to start at U-16, but at U-15 it was already crazy. Many of our girls are being offered opportunities to play in college, some have committed and some are holding off and taking their time. College coaches call me almost daily asking about players and wanting them to come visit and ultimately to commit to their programs. It’s been fantastic and the National League has been a big part of the exposure we’ve gotten."
The National League is an extension of the highly successful US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues (US Youth Soccer Region I Premier League, Midwest Regional League, Region III Premier League and Far West Regional League). The National League provides an avenue for teams to play in meaningful matches against top competition from across the country for continued development and opportunities for exposure at the national team, collegiate and professional levels.
Some highlights from today's matches…
SDFC Lynx (NJ) got off on the right foot in their first National League season, defeating CUP Crew Jrs Gold 94/95 (OH-S) 3-0. SDFC went in front early when Joanna Scotti struck just five minutes in and Mackenzie Cowley doubled the lead before 10 minutes were up. Catherine O’Neill made it 3-0 in the 30th and the SDFC defense took care of the rest for the shutout.
Blast FC (OH-S) finished ahead of Albion SC White (CA-S) in last season’s standings, but for the second season in a row with Albion came out on top head-to-head with a 4-1 win today. Albion ran off four unanswered goals, starting with Karly Zlatic (Harvard) in the 11th minute and followed by Geneva Decker (Yale) in the 24th and Heather Kaleiohi in the 33rd for a 3-0 lead at the break. Natalie Neshat gave Albion a four goal lead with 12 minutes to play, but Maggie Mayo (Duquesne) put Blast on the board in the 88th in the loss.
Match Fit Chelsea Beat (NJ) had a chance to clinch the division title last season on the final day of play, but a 1-1 draw with Cleveland United White (OH-N) left the door open for Legends FC (CA-S), who took the top spot. This season, Match Fit and Cleveland met on the first day of the season but battled to the same result, 0-0. Cleveland advanced to the National Championships as Region II Champions last year, while Match Fit fell in the Regional final to eventual National champ BRYC 95 Elite (VA). Look for today’s result to play a big role on the standings at the end of the season.
Academy United 95/96 (IL) scored in each half versus Oklahoma FC 96 (OK) to take a 2-0 victory in a battle of league newcomers. Sophie Pohl (Toledo) scored the eventual game winner for Academy 14 minutes into the game and Kelsea Berg added an insurance goal five minutes into the second half as the defense held strong.
Defending division champs and National finalist Kings Hammer Academy (OH-S) picked up right where they left off last year, with a shutout victory, defeating PWSI Courage 96 Red (VA), 3-0. Sydney Kilgore got things started in the 10th minute for a 1-0 halftime lead. The league’s leading scorer last season, Lauren Nemeroff, made it 2-0 in the 54th before Mia Schriebeis finished the scoring a minute later.
PSC Baltimore (MD) is itching to get to the National Championships after a third place finish last season before falling in the Region I Championship game, and a 2-1 victory over 97 FC Alliance Black (TN) put them on track. U.S. National Team pool member Bridgette Andrzejewski put PSC in the lead just six minutes into the game before FC Alliance leveled through Bailey Williams in the 33rd. But PSC had an immediate response as Andrzejewski got her second five minutes later for the win.
Ponte Vedra Storm (FL) looked like they would run away from Carlsbad Elite 97/98 (CA-S) as they took a two goal lead after just eight minutes from Lindsey Patton and Lianne Mananquil goals, but Carlsbad found their legs to comeback and earn a 2-2 draw. Pascale Dumesnil pulled a goal back for Carlsbad in the 26th and Shelby Cormier leveled before halftime as neither team could find the net in the second half.
Tampa Bay United 97 Premier (FL) defeated Legends FC 97 (CA-S) 3-1 in their opening game of National League play. Jacqueline Crowther gave Legends the lead in the 21st minute, but Tampa Bay responded within two minutes from Julia Lester to go into halftime level. Julia McKnight put Tampa in front in the 62nd and Gracie Zas insured the win with a stoppage time strike.
National League Girls action continues Friday, Nov. 30. Complete standings, scores and schedules, including goal scorers and match information, can be found at the results page here. Click on the score of each game for more information.