By Karen Billing
How does a talented Del Mar/Carmel Valley Sharks under-15 Elite girls soccer team celebrate winning the state championship? By playing more soccer of course.
With their May 20 win of the Cal South National Championship still fresh on their cleats, the girls celebrated with a competitive parent-child soccer match and picnic on May 24, as is tradition after all their big wins. And this squad has had a lot of big wins.
“It’s the core of what we are and how I built this team from the ground up,” said Coach Felicia Kappes. “I’m a big believer in building camaraderie on and off the field.”
The Sharks were undefeated throughout the Cal South tournament, scoring 40 goals and only allowing five goals. They had some challenges in the eighth round but persevered and had a satisfying victory over Carlsbad Elite in the finals, who had beat them four weeks prior.
“It was a great comeback to redeem ourselves,” said Kappes of the 5-1 game. “It was a great win.”
For that final game, the girls found inspiration in a Mia Hamm quote, which they recited as a team before they hit the pitch.
“I am a member of a team and I rely on the team. I defer to it and sacrifice for it because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”
“It gave us a little spark,” said co-captain Shelby Lee.
The team will now head to the Far West Regionals, June 18-24, in Phoenix to try and turn their state championship into a best in the west title and a chance at nationals in July in South Carolina.
Kappes has been the coach of these Sharks for the last four years — the team moved over last year from Carmel Valley Manchester as Kappes accepted a position as the director of coaching for the league.
The team is just about to start their next season, in the midst of finishing last year’s with this successful run.
“We are just very talented from defense to offense,” Kappes said. “This team is very special in so many ways, they’re more like sisters than teammates, they know each other so well which helps them continue to play at a high level.”
The “sisters” also consider Kappes to be a second mom, saying she is there for them for whatever they need, whether or not it is soccer related.
“Teams with male coaches had a different feel I think. She teaches us so much about life,” said Shelby.
Last year the team won the Nike United tournament in Oregon, which not only propelled them to number one in the country but also earned the entire squad a trip to Sweden, all expenses paid. They represented the United States as a U-14 team.
“We’ve been on a great run since then,” Kappes said.
Kappes describes her girls as “ultra competitive.” Not only are they ranked highly but also nearly all will be headed to compete as student-athletes at Division 1 colleges.
“Soccer is life,” said one of the team’s three captains, Hailey Harbison.
The girls are together for practice three to four times a week, lots of running and hard work.
The three co-captains, Shelby, Hailey and Gianna Montini, speak with one eye fixed on the developing parent-child game, unable to conceal flinching when they see the other team has scored.
Reflecting on their Cal South run, Gianna said the quarterfinals were actually almost like the final game because it was against Legends FC, a team with a very similar playing style. They were able to best them 2-0.
“The semis, we made it hard for ourselves,” said Hailey of the game against Exiles Black.
“We weren’t playing to our strengths,” echoed Gianna.
Once they were scored on, Hailey said the Sharks picked up their play and fought back for a 3-2 victory.
They were all happy about the 5-1 final, winning the championship and extending their season to the regionals.
“It just makes us feel so good,” said Gianna. “We get what we deserve because we worked so hard for so many years.”
Coach Kappes is confident in the Sharks’ chances in the Far West Regional later this month. She said her only concern is that weather will be a factor—it will be 100 degrees at 8 a.m.
The girls are more than willing to prepare, even if it means toting big jugs of water to school to get hydrated a week and a half before the tournament.
As long as they can beat the heat, they can focus on beating the rest of tournament field. Shelby said it’s a challenge because a target is on their back as state champs, but they believe in their team.
“I like how we compete,” Kappes said. “They don’t like to lose so they’re just going to give it their all.”