GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The Elite 03 girls team of the South Mississippi Soccer Club are elite for a reason.
In late June, the girls wore down teams from Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, & Florida as part of the US Club Regionals and took home the 2019 National Cup Regional Championship.
“It was like a weird feeling at first, like it didn’t feel real, but then like whenever we started booking the flights and stuff I was like oh my gosh we’re going to Colorado!” Elite 03 forward Kate Smith told WLOX.
“Personally, going to the regional championship was crazy because we never expected to go that far and then winning the whole entire tournament just surprised us all," said Elite 03 midfielder Sydney Johnson.
The team will now put their talents on display on a national stage. By winning Regionals, the 16 and under girls earn a place as the southeast regions representative in the US Club Soccer National Cup Finals in Colorado.
“Yeah, it feels really great because a lot of times people assume since we’re from Mississippi we’re not that good at soccer," Elite 03 striker Abigail Badurak told WLOX. "It feels great to prove them wrong.”
“This is really cool. I don’t know of anyone that’s ever like done this before and it’s us doing it, representing our club," said Elite 03 defender Lauren Carothers.
What makes this group so special is familiarity. With the team being comprised of players from coast high schools, the core of the team have been together for several years, which helps their chemistry out of on the field.
“We don’t ever force the ball," Smith told WLOX. "We always play it back and be safe and we do a lot of passes before we end up finishing on goal.”
“Everything we’ve done since U10, about 10 or 11-years-old, has all built up to where we are now," Johnson said.
As the girls prepare for their trip, head coach and Mississippi Gulf Coast men’s soccer coach, Chris Handy, has the utmost confidence in his squad and knows they will compete until the end.
“I think I just want to see us play well, play within ourselves," Handy told WLOX. "As a coach, I think what you want is, if they fail you want it to fall on your shoulders and the game plan going in. So I think that takes a little bit of pressure off them and as long as they’re following directions, I’ll be happy with it.”
The National Cup XVIII Finals begin Friday through July 23rd in Commerce City, Colorado.