Rival Treasure Valley soccer clubs FC Nova and Boise Nationals used a joint venture to deliver Idaho’s first Far West Regional championship Friday at Simplot Sports Complex.
The U-19 Nova Nationals — a team built with college and college-bound players from the two clubs — beat FRAM of Southern California 5-1 in the championship match of the three-team bracket. FRAM beat the Nova Nationals 2-1 in the preliminary round Tuesday but didn’t have an answer for the newly formed team’s surprisingly cohesive attack in the rematch.
“It is crazy,” Sophia Kallas said after collecting her championship medal. “Just sitting there, I couldn’t even believe it. I was still in awe.”
The Nova Nationals will compete in the US Youth Soccer National Championships, which are July 21-26 in Tulsa, Okla. They are the second Idaho team to qualify for nationals in the event’s history. The Boise Nationals U-15 girls advanced as a wild card in 2013.
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Two more Idaho girls teams remain in contention this week. The FC Nova U-14 team and the Boise Nationals U-18 team compete in semifinal matches Saturday morning.
Fittingly, one from each of the two clubs that produced Friday’s triumph.
The U-19 players spent most of their youth soccer careers competing against each other.
“It’s so funny, because they’ll go out and break each other’s leg in a club match and then in high school they’re best friends and loving each other and selfies and all that good stuff,” coach Eric Simmonsen said. “For them to come together, that’s a huge monkey off their backs. They get to do it together as Idaho.”
The idea to merge for this summer was hatched a year ago, but the players didn’t begin working together until last month. The team won the state title and added more players for regionals as they continued to trickle home from college.
The loss to FRAM on Tuesday was the first game with the team’s full roster. The Nova Nationals beat OVC Vejar of Southern California 6-1 on Wednesday to advance to the final.
“They’ve done a great job — just getting games under their belt and starting to get connected and trusting each other,” Simmonsen said. “They’ve developed that. That was huge today, the togetherness.”
The team’s chemistry was tested immediately when FRAM scored in the opening seconds of the match on a terrific shot that slipped under the crossbar.
“We were just a little shocked that they scored so quick — and we didn’t even touch the ball,” Hallie Widner said.
Grace Hancock delivered the equalizing goal less than 3 minutes later. Maggie Saras gave the Nova Nationals the lead and sub Allegra Weeks, an early enrollee at Boise State, added a pair of goals late in the first half for a 4-1 advantage. Widner scored the lone goal of the second half.
“Losing on Tuesday, I think that really made us come out with more fire,” Kallas said. “That made us want to win more. So I actually think that helped us in the long run.”
The combined team was built with the idea of winning a regional title.
“I don’t think anybody was actually expecting us to, but it’s pretty cool that we did,” Widner said.
The clubs could have fielded separate teams, Simmonsen said, but they would have had limited rosters (perhaps only 12 or 13 players each) and a less realistic shot at the regional title.
Instead, these players will cap their youth soccer careers with a unique experience.
“They’ve got a memory and a moment for them that’s going to be a legacy for a long time,” Simmonsen said.