Third time’s the charm.
By REBECCA FITZGERALD
The Kansas City Star
The North Atlanta Soccer Association 12 Elite II team won the U-19 girls national title on Sunday in its third go at the US Youth Soccer National Championships at the Overland Park Soccer Complex in Overland Park.
The Kennesaw, Ga., team won 2-1 over the Southern California Blues-Dido, who had defeated NASA on Friday in the final round-robin match.
It was the last chance at a national title for both teams, whose players will go their separate ways for the college seasons.
And that’s what helped NASA in its final game together.
“We knew that this was the last time we will ever step onto the field together,” NASA’s Bria Washington said.
Even NASA’s Caroline Waters, a U-18 player filling in for the U-19 tournament, knew what was on the line.
When the score was scoreless at the end of regulation play, Waters had one thing on her mind: “We have 30 minutes left as a team. Better make the most of it.”
Waters found herself in a good position and took a shot, like her teammates told her. Waters hit it as hard as she could and waited. When the ball found the back of the net, she couldn’t believe it.
“I was freaking out,” she said afterward, still ecstatic. “I was kind of in shock.”
Kelsey Nix added another goal about six minutes later, giving NASA a 2-0 lead going into the second 15-minute overtime period.
Jocelyn Blankenship put So Cal on the board in the second minute of the second overtime, but it wasn’t enough.
The overtime periods came after a competitive period of regulation play. The Blues struggled early in the first half, when NASA maintained possession. Play evened out during the second half with numerous opportunities for both teams. So Cal nearly saw its first goal when Jennifer Stanley’s shot hit the crossbar in the 81st minute. Blues goalie Naomi Willett was also challenged with two one-on-one breakaways.
But NASA held on and won its first national title.
“It couldn’t have happened a better way for them,” coach Dave Smith said. “It’s well-deserved, they’re great kids.”
NASA had very little training before the nationals, due to college schedules. The team played in the Georgia State Cup and the Region III Championships before coming to the National Championship Series.
“The fact that they’ve been together for so long probably filled in the holes for the lack of training that we had at times,” Smith said.
Five NASA players, including Washington, are headed to Georgia, where they can share more memories together.
But for those players who attend other Southeastern Conference schools, their NASA teammates are now opponents.
It’ll be a change for the NASA family, but Washington doesn’t seem too worried: “It’s going to be really competitive. Hopefully we can stay focus on the field and not talk and distract each other.”
To reach Rebecca Fitzgerald, send email to email@example.com.