For two girls soccer teams from Winter Haven, April 27 was a very good day.
It was on that day that two teams from the Winter Haven Youth Soccer Association Kicks (WHYSA) did something it is believed no Kicks teams had done before in the organization’s more than two decades of competition -- the U19 and U18 teams each won a state championship.
The Florida Presidents Cup is a statewide tournament that runs from early February through the end of April. Play ended April 27 and the two teams of local girls stood atop their divisions. The WHYSA U19 team played earlier in the day at the Lake Myrtle Complex in Auburndale, defeating Space Coast United 5-1.
The game for the U18 team, though, was a tad more intense. Facing off against Coral Gables Storm, the Kicks team was tied 2-2 late into the game before Delaney Elder scored on a corner kick by McKenzie Pagan.
The 3-2 victory is one the local girls are unlikely to forget.
“They almost are in shock,” explained Michael Flood, the team’s head coach and the competitive registrar for the Kicks organization. “There are some of them that have never left the state and none of them have ever played a game outside the state. For them, this is a grand adventure.”
Flood is referring to the United States Youth Soccer Region 3 Southern Presidents Cup that the U18 team has qualified for. It will pit the Winter Haven squad against state champions from 10 other states, predominately in the Southeast.
For the U19 team, the state championship was the end of the line. Most players at that division are college-bound seniors who will instead prepare for collegiate careers.
The U18 teams, however, tend to consist of rising seniors in high school, and thus they continue on. In this case, the WHYSA U18 team will get a chance to compete in a tournament in Texas, just outside of Austin, from June 11-16 -- but they need the community’s help to do so.
Teams that regularly advance to regional competition tend to have higher dues, but that is not the case with WHYSA, whose dues are $425 per year. Accordingly, the girls are hard at work fundraising to arrange for travel to Texas, as well as hotels and food costs.
In addition to other fundraisers that will occur over the next month, a GoFundMe has been set up to help the local team. Those interested in helping the Kicks make the trip can visit http://bit.ly/2Hfo79N to donate.
The victory and ensuing invitation to the regional competition is exciting for the local girls for a number of reasons. As Flood mentioned, many have never competed out-of-state -- some have not even left the state for vacation.
It is also a reward for a lot of a hard work from a team that doesn’t always have the most talented roster.
“They play together so well,” Flood said. “We don’t really play the traditional way that most of these teams play and sometimes they don’t know what to do with us. We’ve come up with a style that works. ...
“These girls, they really rally around each other and in adversity have a way of holding each other up.”
Flood and others associated with the team would like to encourage the community to help where possible. After all, the experience for the local youth will amount to more than just wins and losses.
“It’s not just that these girls can kick a ball and run,” Flood said. “There is all sorts of teamwork and leadership and dedication and life lessons that come out of this.”