By Rob LeDonne
In a thrilling overtime finals game, the Del Mar/Carmel Valley Sharks Elite Team won the U.S. Youth National Soccer Championships in the 16 and under girls division. The game, which was played on Sunday in Overland Park, Kansas, and pitted the Sharks against last year’s finalists (Cincinnati, Ohio’s King’s Hammer Academy), was an exciting end to what Coach Felicia Kappes called “truly a dream season.”
“Around 10,000 teams started this process to get to the nationals,” explained Kappes. “Then it was whittled down to a final 88 teams competing overall, and then eight teams — four against four.”
In the end, the Sharks came out on top following a successful season any athlete would rarely get to see.
“We knew we were one of the best teams in the country going into it,” Kappes noted of the team’s prowess. “We have been ranked as high as number one in the nation for four or five months. We always had goals, and tried to accomplish each one.”
The past season has been an intense one, both on the field and off. The Sharks had a grueling travel schedule which brought them to places like North Carolina and Hawaii, the result of which was the formation of a strong bond between teammates.
“The team is more like a family,” said Kappes. “They’re a special group of people; I’ve seen them grow from little girls to young women. Their camaraderie is amazing... they had lots of traditions and nuances they do before games, and generally bonded in ways you can’t create as a coach. It’s something you just can’t fake.”
Team Captain Gianna Montini echoes those sentiments. “It was amazing, it still feels amazing and unreal that we even won. We just worked so hard as a team and dedicated so much time. We felt like we deserved this, but we knew we had to put in the effort.”
The final game against King’s Hammer wasn’t an easy one, according to Montini: “We were down twice in the same game, but we knew it was our time to win and made it happen.”
Following their win on Sunday, the team flew together back to San Diego.
“Everyone was congratulating them in the airport in Kansas,” said Kappes. “Then when we got on our Southwest flight, everyone was laughing and dancing.”
“Arriving at the airport in San Diego was awesome,” Montini said. “There were so many of our family and friends there, holding signs and cheering. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of; you could really feel the love.”
Summed up Kappes: “We’re proud we brought a championship to San Diego. The girls enjoyed every single moment... It was truly a team effort.”