Rivals during high school, Maggie Saras and Akina Fujimoto found themselves on the same side in college at NCAA Division II Regis University.
And as the best friends returned from Colorado for their final club soccer season, they decided to bury the hatchet and join forces between Idaho’s top two club soccer programs — the Boise Nationals and the Meridian-based FC Nova.
The result is an all-star team called the Nova-Nationals at the U-19 2015 US Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships at the Simplot Sports Complex, one with aspirations and a legitimate shot at becoming Idaho’s first regional champion.
“I think that this team has the definite possibility of winning regionals,” Saras said. “That is our expectation, nothing less. And I think we have a very good shot at doing extremely well at nationals. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but that’s the goal.”
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That goal received a setback Tuesday as the Nova-Nationals played their first game of the three-team U-19 tournament and fell 2-1 to FRAM of Southern California.
College teammate Rikki Fix — one of five players from Regis on Nova-Nationals — pulled the Idaho club within 2-1 with an 80th minute goal. But Grace Hancock’s headed corner hit the crossbar, her strike from 18 yards fell short and a shot from a scrum inside the 6-yard box found a FRAM defender all in the last 10 minutes, denying the Nova-Nationals a draw against a team that opened Monday with a 7-0 victory.
Despite the loss, the Nova-Nationals can advance to Friday’s championship with a win or a draw at 3 p.m. Wednesday against OVC Vejar of Southern California. And the combined club has plenty of talent to believe it can earn a rematch with FRAM in the finals.
Every player on the roster either just finished their freshman season with a college program or is committed to one, ranging from NAIA to Division I. Some of the major college programs represented include Washington State (Boise High’s Grace Hancock), Boise State (Timberline High’s Allegra Weeks) and Montana (Rocky Mountain High’s Hallie Widner, the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year).
Surveying all the talent across the individual Nova and Nationals roster, Fujimoto said it only made sense to combine the two and chase a regional title. The last time the U-19 girls combined was in 2011 when the club, led by current pro Sofia Huerta, fell 4-3 in double overtime in the regional championship final.
“We just thought it was kind of stupid that the teams wouldn’t combine,” Fujimoto said.
Fujimoto, a Nova alum, called up all of her club teammates and Saras, a Nationals alum, contacted her squad. Both said they didn’t encounter any hesitation about suiting up with their former rivals.
“We’ve all played against each other since we were all U-11,” Saras said. “The rivalry is what made us into the players that we are today. Once we left and went to college, we decided that the rivalry needed to end and we wanted to put together the best team that we could to represent Idaho.”