The Elite Girls Academy under-19 team is the first Nebraska girls squad to win a region championship.
Now its players are aiming to become the first to claim a national title.
“If Nebraska was capable of winning a national championship, this team is arguably the team that would do it,” coach Marcus Kelcher said. “We have enough talent to win a regional title and a national title.”
The U19 Maroon will take a team stacked with Division I talent to the US Youth Soccer Region II championships in Des Moines. They’ll open pool play against the state champion from Minnesota at 2 p.m. Saturday at James Cownie Soccer Complex.
Players on the roster include Paige Nielsen, who won an NCAA Division I title with North Carolina last season, and Karlie Mueller, who was invited to play in a U.S. women’s under-20 national team event in Sweden. She was asked back to a camp in Portland in July.
Jackie Tondl and Taylor Saucier (Texas A&M), Ava Ambrose (Miami), Jaylyn Odermann (Nebraska) and Hannah Wampler (UNO) are some of the other Nebraska standouts.
Kelcher said many teams have some elite players mixed in with some talented individuals. His roster, however, is full of players considered elite.
“This is probably the most competitive group of players I’ve ever worked with as a whole,” he said.
Most of the team was together in 2008, when the team won the under-14 Region II title and went on to finish third at nationals.
Alex Massy, a forward from Kearney, Mo., who plays for Auburn, and Mueller, a defender from Sioux Falls who competes for Texas A&M, have traveled hours for years to train with the squad. This season, Kelcher has added Corrine Harris (Michigan) and Jennifer Korn (Northwestern) from Chicago.
Kelcher said they wanted to join because they’d seen the success his team has had in the past. As well as winning the regional in 2008, it won the USYS national league in 2012 and has won four state cup titles. This year, it had no competition in its age group.
The players’ postseason experience could be a big factor. Kelcher said a squad needs a good draw, an understanding of what it takes to compete at a high level and good health to advance to nationals in Overland Park, Kan., in July.
“If there are any slipups, you are not going to win your group,” he said.
Kelcher will be taking four squads to regionals, which will make for a busy weekend for him and his assistants. But he expects more than one to make it out of three-game pool play to Tuesday’s semifinals.
His under-19 team, he said, has to be considered one of the favorites.
“We won’t not win because of talent,” he said. “We have all the talent.”
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