Qualifying for a prestigious national soccer tournament was clearly not the primary goal for a pair of Cache Valley girls soccer teams.
Simply put, both sides were not content with just advancing to the National Presidents Cup, which was contested from July 7-11 in Des Moines, Iowa. Instead, Avalanche 03 Black CV and Avalanche 04 Black CV were determined to put their stamp on the tournament.
That’s exactly what both club teams did as they dominated the competition in the Hawkeye State. The 03 team rolled to a 6-0 victory over an opponent from West Virginia in the finals of the U18/19 division, while the 04 squad prevailed by a 3-0 scoreline against an opponent from Ohio in the U17 division.
Neither local side was seriously tested in any of their games in Iowa. The older team outscored their four opponents by a 16-1 margin, while the younger girls won by scores of 4-0, 6-1 and 3-0.
This is believed to be the first time a squad comprised entirely of Cache Valley players have even competed in this tourney. There were athletes representing every high school in Cache County at the National Presidents Cup, and both sides certainly made the most of their opportunity.
“It was very gratifying,” said Kenan Powell, who has coached the 04 team for several years now. “The girls from the beginning of our bus trip to the end of our bus trip just showed that they wanted to represent their state, their club, their community and just go above and beyond in how they represented themselves. It was very gratifying to see them fulfill that all week.”
Darin Christensen, who has coached the 03 team for more than a decade, felt the same way. His squad was just as dominant, despite having several girls play up a couple of age divisions. Christensen’s 03 group at nationals consisted of five recent high school graduates, one incoming senior, six incoming sophomores and three incoming freshmen.
“It was really nice,” said Christensen, who coached several of his younger girls to a Utah State Cup title in 2017. “It was such a weird team dynamic just because of the age difference between young and older, but it was really fun to see because I’ve coached both of these teams for basically 10 years. ... And I think because it was a new team, everybody was having so much fun that we really just played so well together.”
Both teams had to win the Utah Presidents Cup and Far West Regionals tournament to punch their ticket to the National Presidents Cup. The first tourney was contested in May in Orem, while regionals took place from June 16-20 in Salt Lake City.
The 03 side went a combined 12-0 at all three competitions and recorded an ultra-impressive 11 shutouts. The lone goal the U18/19 squad conceded was to West Virginia at nationals. Avalanche won that match 3-1 and went on to blow out that same foe by the aforementioned 6-0 scoreline in the finals.
“We just had so much offensive power,” Christensen said. “... I just felt like goals were coming from everywhere. It’s just really hard for teams to defend us.”
And while the 04 side was clearly the superior team at nationals, it had to overcome some adversity just to make it to Des Moines. After all, Avalanche trailed the Idaho Rush 2-0 midway through the second half in the championship match of the Far West Regionals. To their credit, the local girls were undaunted as they rattled off three straight goals to earn a 3-2 victory.
“That’s by far one of the top moments I’ve had (coaching),” Powell said. “There have been big late game winners, but just knowing you’re down two goals late into a game and then to come back and get three goals, and knowing that, that takes you to a national tournament is pretty special.”
Avalanche Black 04 was also tested in a group stage game at regionals as it drew with an opponent. The local team won its other four matches at that tourney and went 4-0 at the Utah Presidents Cup.
The younger squad struggled a bit during the first 15 minutes of its opener and third and final match at nationals, Powell said, but ultimately found its rhythm and took control.
“I think what impressed me the most is just the consistent quality for the majority of the tournament,” Powell said. “It wasn’t something where we had bursts of good here, good there. It was very consistent play for the majority of each game.”
It was certainly a balanced team effort for Powell’s side, which swept both major individual awards at the tournament. Avalanche forward Baylie Baldwin scored the most goals in the U17 division and was awarded the Golden Boot, while teammate Grace Glover won the Golden Glove, which is given to the goalkeeper who allows the fewest goals.
Addie Zollinger (forward), Amalia Fonua (center back), Laney Gibbons (attacking midfielder) and Emma Browning (midfielder) also represented Avalanche on the all-tournament team. Fonua, Reese Heninger and Oakley Miller anchored Avalanche’s talented backline.
In addition to the aforementioned players, Avalanche Black 04 was comprised of Riley Baldwin, Halle Miller, Tabitha Wagner, Caitlyn Parry, Rhauli Barrera, Madison Fenton, Alyssa Chadwick, Ellie Thompson and Saige Wiser. Wagner missed nationals, but competed at the other two tournaments.
“I think the biggest strength of this group is just that they completely get along and respect each other,” said Powell, who resides in Roy. “There’s not just one superstar, so we rely on everybody and they act like family on and off the field.”
Likewise, Christensen raved about the technical ability of his lineup from top to bottom. Avalanche Black 03 was able to control the possession battle in all of its matches, Christensen said, because the opposition played a much more direct style of soccer.
“We play a possession style of soccer,” Christensen said. “Honestly, our team has a really hard time sending balls over the top. We like to pass the whole way down the field and that was unique in all the games that we played, so I think that teams didn’t know how to play against us. They’re used to teams playing long over-the-top (balls) when we did not do that. ... It just felt like we were a lot better than everybody we played.”
What impressed Christensen the most about his girls at nationals?
“We never really got rattled and we played our style the whole time,” he said. “And so I think it gets to a point where you’re at a big tournament and there’s a lot of pressure, and so you start to maybe play similar to a team you’re playing against. ... But I think from the first game to the last game, we had just sort of established that we’re playing this way, more of a combination style, work the ball up the field slowly, and we played that way the whole time.”
Avalanche keeper Lily Loyet only allowed one goal in 12 presidents cup matches and won the Golden Glove award at nationals. Fellow teammates Austin Miller, Reese Thurston and Jordyn Hollingsworth secured a spot on the all-tournament team, and Christensen also singled out the attacking minded play of Hadli Barrera and Tenzi Knowles.
Avalanche’s backline of Thurston, Alex Baer, Carly Eubanks and Claire Campbell were nearly impossible to score on, plus Carlie Jenkins excelled in her defensive midfield role, Christensen asserted.
The rest of Avalanche’s talented roster consisted of Bentli Barrera, Alec Kennington, Maysen McKay, Addyson Sofonia and Summer Sofonia.
Both local teams had no problem scoring goals in Iowa, despite having to deal with constant rainy conditions. There was even a tornado warning when some of the girls were at the mall, Powell said.
Powell praised the parents for their support and referred to that dynamic as “a special quality of this group.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a group of parents that have been this supportive and amazing, and drama free,” he said. “... (This team) is player led, but fully backed by the parents.”
Christensen made it a point to thank team managers Janae Glover and Marcy Kennington for “the amount of time (they) put in to get us to nationals.”