As the girls of the FC Kansas City Pink Panthers Elite U-16 team dashed to the center of the field and dog-piled on top of each other, the feeling was pure relief.
For the second straight year, the team advanced to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series after winning the regional final 2-0 on Wednesday. After making it to the U-15 nationals last year, the team moved on this year just two weeks after replacing coach Tim Richardson, who left the academy for another job.
“All of our hard work had paid off,” said defender and midfielder Autumn Ferguson, who goes to Pleasant Hill High School. “It really makes our team feel very proud of ourselves. We know we have to do well to represent everyone, and FCKC is a great club, so we just have to keep pushing.”
The U-16 Pink Panthers Elite was one of five FC Kansas City teams to advance to the Midwest Championships in Westfield, Ind. FCKC teams swept the high school age groups on the girls’ side, but Pink Panthers Elite was the only team to advance to nationals.
“Very few clubs are able to represent a state like we did, which says a lot when you look at the Missouri side, with the St. Louis market, it’s one of the stronger states in the union as far as club soccer goes,” coach Brad Childers said. “It’s pretty exciting that our Kansas City club is grinding away and doing a good job of developing these players.”
The Pink Panthers were 2-0-1 in the group stage, outscoring opponents 9-0 en route to the semifinals. There, they topped Midwest United Royal, a Michigan squad, 3-1. In the finals against Cincinnati’s CUP Gold, Kassidy Newsom scored goals in both halves for the win.
Before the regionals, the team gathered and discussed how it had to stay true to what it was with Richardson. And once the girls got into games, they knew they were part of the same dominant team they trained to be.
“Coming into regionals with a new coach, it was a lot of wondering what was going to happen, how it was going to turn out,” said Carsyn Overin, a holding midfielder from Lee’s Summit West. “Going into it, we knew we had to win, just to prove that we’re still the same team. … Once we won, we knew that we’re still on.”
The squad will next play July 26-31 in Frisco, Texas, one of 40 teams competing for national titles in multiple age groups. And the team has set high expectations for itself.
“At practice we’re all staying after just working on fitness, agility, all of that stuff,” Ferguson said. “It’s kind of a hard feeling to describe, but I think we have expectations to do well.”