FORT WORTH, Texas -- The numbers don't lie.
Of the 37 teams competing at this year's National Elite Prep Showcase, 20 have appeared in the TopDrawerSoccer.com region rankings and 12 currently are ranked in the SIMA FAB 50, including the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 teams.
Simply put, there's no other event like it for girls soccer any time of the year. And no other event plays a bigger part in assessing the national landscape for winter girls soccer.
NEPS, which started as the Nolan Showcase, is now co-hosted by Nolan Catholic and Southlake Carroll. The event, now in its 15th year, is played out at five facilities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where 37 teams basically will play four contests over three days each in a showcase format. Barring weather, the marquee clashes figure to happen Friday morning when SIMA FAB 50 No. 2 Southlake Carroll (Texas) takes on No. 3 Carondelet (Calif.). Only five miles away, No. 1 Marcus (Texas) clashes with No. 4 [Liberty ca-w] (Calif.). Both games are slated for 10 a.m. local starts. Marcus and Liberty are scheduled to play later Friday evening. Other nationally ranked teams at this year's event are No. 12 Byron Nelson (Texas), No 17 Coppell (Texas), No. 24 Santa Margarita (Calif.), No 26 Harvard-Westlake (Calif.), No. 29 Hendrickson (Texas), No. 30 Flower Mound (Texas), No. 32 Ursuline Academy (Texas) and No. 34 Nolan Catholic (Texas).
Fifteen years ago, the Nolan Showcase got started as an event very secondary in the tournament-heavy early January Texas high school scene. The 32-team Plano Tournament of Champions and a showcase event at Colleyville Heritage were the benchmarks. But it did not take long, bolstered by a coaching change at Colleyville Heritage and declining interest to host by Plano that opened the door for Jay Fitzgerald, the Nolan Catholic coach who serves as tournament co-director. Teams from nearly every winter-playing state have competed at NEPS and it's not uncommon for programs seeking national attention to vie for one of the coveted tournament spots. Over the past five years, no fewer than 10 FAB 50 teams were in action at NEPS, and the event has served to set up national title runs for a couple programs.
While there are other long-standing and important winter girls events, NEPS continues to be the most innovative. Beyond seeking the national elite programs to beef up the field, NEPS produces a college coach recruiting guide and uses the latest technology to enhance the experience -- complete with re-event and post-event video. Last year, all matches at Nolan Catholic were shown on Periscope. This year, eight matches are scheduled to be live-streamed by the Nolan Catholic production department.
While the format does not lead to an overall championship match, one thing is for certain this week, next week's SIMA FAB 50 No. 1 team likely will have earned the ranking on the field at NEPS.