The Del Mar Carmel Valley Girls U 17 Elite soccer team traveled to Germantown, Md., for a week of National Championship Series games among the top eight teams in their age group in the United States.
“The best way to describe this year,” said Coach Felicia Kappes, “is that we have enjoyed a fantastic journey together chasing an incredible and very challenging goal of repeating as National Champions.”
This was the last season for this complete team, as six seniors go on to play college soccer in the fall.
“Some of these girls have been with me since U12, so every competition was very emotional along the way, knowing this was their last time with us. We had a theme every trip for them — have fun and create even more team memories. Our motto was to ‘Dream Big’ and ‘Believe.’”
The Sharks were able to skip the U.S. Regional Championships, having already qualified for the National Championship Series.
Coach Felicia decided to have the girls in for an intense week of training camp that included all aspects — classroom for the mental toughness course with AST, strength and conditioning with TCTC, and field training.
“We had four days with Darcy Lyons from AST in the classroom and completed the mental toughness course,” she said. “Jim Madrid, founder of AST, then came in and completed it with a very special team exercise that U.S. Youth soccer filmed and reported on. It was an incredible week, but probably the most significant change in our preparation was that we felt mentally stronger to handle anything thrown our way at the end of the week.”
Monday’s kickoff was a wonderful player’s luncheon and video highlights of the Road to MD for all 96 teams from each of seven age groups of boys and girls.
Bracket play began Tuesday. The Sharks opened with a rematch of last year’s Championship game against Kings Hammer. Their mental toughness was challenged in this game with two last-minute goals to tie the game. The other team celebrated as if it were the Championship game, and the Sharks had to watch that. Right then, they could have put their heads down and been defeated.
“We regrouped, focused on the positive that we played really well for 89 minutes, went through a visualization exercise that evening and went on to win the next 4 games,” said Coach Felicia.
In the next two days, the Maryland heat and humidity showed up and challenged all the teams’ fitness. The Sharks showed the depth of their bench through different combinations of girls in different positions to win 2-1 and 2-0 respectively over VSA Heat (Virginia) and Maitland Krush (Florida).
With each game, the Sharks became stronger and stronger. Each morning they visualized and worked on their affirmations. It was an incredible experience to see the girls developing on a whole body/mind level.
“Each game I said, ‘Have fun and put on a show for everyone to see,’” said Coach Felicia. “Well, they did, and we laughed at how they were turning my hair gray because each game was so intense and close. They just smiled at me and said, ‘You said to put on a show for all to enjoy.’”
The Sharks’ 2-0-1 record earned the bracket top spot and a place in the semifinals against neighboring club Carlsbad Elite. In the 90th minute, goalie Sydney Wootten came out of her box to thwart a certain game-ending goal by Carlsbad and received a red card, ending her play in the tournament.
Play resumed with Melissa Lowder returned in goal and playing one man down as the whistle blew, sending the game into overtime. During two 15-minute periods of overtime in this already very physical game, the Sharks turned to their mental toughness training, digging deep within to finish. Hannah Keogh took the free kick on a penalty. She placed it in the area for Huli De Armas to put the ball in the back of the net. Sharks win 1-0.
The Sharks faced VSA Heat in the finals, and they were committed to raising the National Trophy once again.
In the first half, the Sharks moved the ball well, connecting passes and showing their skill, but could not find an opening to the net. The Heat defenders were unwilling to allow anything to get through.
In the second half, the Heat pressured the defense, but the skilled Sharks repeatedly stole possession of the ball to move in to scoring opportunities. In the 75th minute, Huli De Armas took a corner kick and with a line drive placed the ball perfectly for Gianna Montini to get her head on the ball, and “GOOOOOAL” 1-0.
This sparked the Sharks! They became ferocious in their attack and wore the Heat team down.
History was made for the Sharks team as they prevailed as National Champions for the second year in a row. They were the only defending champions in the 2014 tournament.
“The key to it all is that we never focused on the result,” said Coach Felicia. “We focused on our team, personal goals and each other.
“I have always told them that as long as they perform to the best of their ability that day, that we all could live with whatever the result was, win or lose. I am thrilled they did win, but it was never about that — it was always about having fun and enjoying every precious moment together. The soccer part, their competitive nature, their extreme talent was always going to shine, and so many teams have those same special components.
“I believe what makes us so special as a team and club is that we also focus on different values other than just winning. We are family, they love each other like sisters, our parents are extremely close, and we believe this game offers so many important life lessons. In the end, this team is bonded with lifelong memories, and our seniors are leaving on top as back-to-back National Champions and they have made history. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“Finally,” she continued, ”coming home to an incredible cheering crowd with banners and noisemakers at the airport that consisted of Shannon McMillan, our board, our families and tons of Sharks players of every age level was the icing on the cake and truly represented everything we are about as a Club and team. It was a very emotional moment for all of us, lots of tears and laughter. To be able to demonstrate who we are on the national level is a blessing, but this group of girls is so deserving because they represent the best of what youth soccer is all about.”
Find stories, photos and videos at