U14 girls win Kidsports soccer title

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Sweet Home’s junior high-aged girls soccer team won the Kidsports Division II championship in Eugene Nov. 17.

Both the boys and the girls teams played in the Kidsports Klassic Soccer U14 leagues this year. Players for both teams were all from Sweet Home Junior High, with the exception of two sixth-graders who played for the girls.

“We felt it very important to find better competition than what the Boys and Girl’s Club had to offer,” said girls Coach Lela Danforth, who spearheaded fund-raising and organized the program. “To be competitive at the high school level, we needed to step up our skill and field playing levels.”

Danforth said an effort to compete against area junior highs fell through, so “we looked into other options.”

She said the AYSO programs in Corvallis and Albany were not interested in including teams that were made up entirely of Sweet Home players. AYSO requires that teams be “balanced,” which means teams players in competitive age groups are selected in a draft by league coaches, which left Sweet Home out.

She said one thing was clear: that Sweet Home needed higher-level competition than it was getting in Boys and Girls Club competition, in which last year’s teams played.

“Many involved in the Sweet Home soccer program agreed that we have to start coaching more strategy and higher-level skills at a much younger age if we are to be successful in our high school soccer program,” Danforth said. “This was the best option – a positive direction for Sweet Home soccer.”

The teams did not use the name Tigers because they were not officially representing the junior high, she said.

They played in a ranking jamboree at the beginning of the season that determined which division they would compete in. Then they played nine games and finished with a Soccer Cup Tournament.

“We started off rough,” said Mike Carpenter, who coached the boys along with Mike Bosso. He said his team was not used to the artificial turf fields, on which every other team but Sweet Home and Elmira played.

“Ball speed was a big factor for us,” he said. “Finally, we got it together. The kids learned to pass and play good defense.”

They started winning, beating teams that had defeated them in the first round of the regular season, Carpenter said. They finished 2-6-1.

Danforth said her team also struggled early on.

” I had girls who knew how to play soccer, girls who never played soccer or any sport for that matter and also girls who fell in between,” she said. “We also had two sixth-graders on the team that were very valuable players. At the end of the season you could not tell that Katy and Natalie Currey were only sixth-graders. They are amazing soccer players that will only get stronger as they get older and define their skills.”

The girls finished 3-7-2.

“I really believed that this year we needed to measure our success not by our win-loss record, but by our growth and how we played together as a team at the level we were in,” Danforth said. “We started out the season a little on the less skilled level compared to the other teams. The most we lost by however was a difference of three points and we scored in all but one game.

“By the end of the end of the season the girls really came on strong. They were using triangles, crossing the ball and were crashing the nets to finish shots. They were staying spread out, passing better and using the open field for speed advantages against their defenses. They started effectively communicating and using each other’s strengths and adjusting to each others weaknesses.”

It all paid off for both teams, the coaches said.

The girls won the Division II championship, winning four and losing just one game in the final tournament, which extended over two weekends.

The boys ended up in the consolation bracket after losing a game in which a “youthful” referee called an off-sides on a corner kick that resulted in what should have been a goal for Sweet Home, Carpenter said.

In their final game, they played a team they’d been battling even-up all year long, he said.

“It was our best game all season,” he said. The game came down to a shoot-out, and DJ Caldwell nailed a shot to win the game for Sweet Home.

Carpenter said that Elmira was the only team that thoroughly beat Sweet Home and in their second game, Sweet Home lost just 5-3.

“Their coach told me it was the closest game they had all season,” Carpenter said. “He said we probably have the best goalie in the league in Dakota Snow.”

Carpenter noted that when Snow got hurt in mid-season, Kyle Winslow stepped in at goalie and did a fine job, which enabled Carpenter to move Snow to forward when he was ready to play.

Carpenter said he plans to coach again next year, even though his son is moving on to high school.

“I can’t stress enough that I had such a wonderful group of boys,” he said.

Danforth said the teams are thankful to the community for supporting our fund-raisers to make it possible to get players the equipment necessary to play. She said Les Schwab allowed them to hold monthly car washes throughout the summer and several businesses stepped up as sponsors, including Sweet Home Funeral Chapel, Napa, Kurt Davis Log Hauling, Maxi Mill and Three Strands Logistics.

“With all the support, 32 kids were off the streets doing something healthy and productive,” she said.