Soccer

FC Nova’s U-15 girls chasing national ECNL soccer title

FC Nova’s Abygail Keeley, right, challenges Carlsbad United’s Cameron Tomaneng for the ball last year at Far West Regionals. A division championship this spring earned Nova a berth at the ECNL Champions League this weekend.
FC Nova’s Abygail Keeley, right, challenges Carlsbad United’s Cameron Tomaneng for the ball last year at Far West Regionals. A division championship this spring earned Nova a berth at the ECNL Champions League this weekend. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

The Far West Regionals kick off their knockout rounds Friday at Boise’s Simplot Sports Complex. But while some of the top youth club soccer teams from the western United States chase a regional title in Boise, one of Idaho’s most dominant clubs opted to skip regionals.

FC Nova’s top U-15 girls squad won their division this spring in the Elite Clubs National League, the top girls club soccer league in the nation. The Mountain Division title awarded Nova the right to become Idaho’s first representative in the ECNL Champions League, a 32-team national tournament starting Friday in Oceanside, Calif.

“I know that the competition will be tough,” said Madison Carter, an incoming junior at Timberline High. “It’s the top 32 teams in nation. But I think we can beat any team if we just play together as a team.”

Nova starts group play at 1 p.m. MT Friday against the Michigan Hawks, ranked No. 7 in the nation by TopDrawerSoccer.com. Nova’s group also includes No. 19 FC Boston and No. 24 SC Del Sol of Phoenix.

Nova, made up of incoming high school sophomores and juniors, received a tough draw in its first year in the Champions League. But FC Nova Director of Coaching Eric Simmonsen said his team prefers it that way.

“The kids used to walk on the field like, ‘We’re from Idaho,’ a little shy,” Simmonsen said. “Now they have a chip on their shoulder. They embrace that more. ‘Oh we get to play them. That’s awesome.’

“Instead of the easy road, they like the path of most resistance now.”

Nova will need to win its group to advance to the quarterfinals. The four quarterfinal winners then move on to the national championships July 8-9 in Germantown, Md.

In order to advance, Simmonsen said his team will have to fight uphill battles against national powers to squeak out results.

“We know we’re playing, quality, quality opponents every match,” he said. “So we’ve got to limit mistakes. We’ve got to play together knowing there are portions where we’re going to have defend a good portion of the game.”

Reaching the Champions League forced Nova to skip out on the Idaho State Cup tournament and a shot at regionals. As U-14s, Nova reached the regional semifinals. Nova’s second U-15 team took its place this year, winning state and qualifying for regionals before failing to advance out of its group.

But earning Idaho’s first berth in the ECNL Champions League made it all worthwhile.

“It means a lot,” Carter said. “We’ve worked so hard to get here, and to finally get there is a really big accomplishment for Nova and our team.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

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