The FC Wisconsin U16 and U17 girls teams traveled to Sanford, FL for the 2015 ECNL National Event in Florida from December 27-30, playing 3 games over 3 days in front of hundreds of colleges from across the country.
The ECNL Florida event is one of the largest college showcase events in the country, with the best of the best playing ECNL matches critical to every team in the wildcard races for the ECNL post-season qualification.
Day one of the event opened to warm and humid conditions making playing difficult for anyone from the northern states, but the fields were beautiful and the sun was shining – a combination hard to complain too much about.
The U17s faced Philadelphia club Penn Fusion from the ECNL Northeast Conference in their opener, and were hard-pressed throughout the game. The Philly outfit took an early lead in the 15th minute, and claimed another seconds before halftime on a miscommunication in the FC Wisconsin backline. With the opportunity to regroup at halftime, the U17s executed 2 good counters from Libby Snyder and Mikaela Hoard to tie the game in the 70th minute. Unfortunately, there was still too much offense left from Penn Fusion, as they scored two more in the final 20 minutes to take 3 points in a 4-2 win.
The U16s were matched against North Carolina Fusion on day 1 from the ECNL Mid-Atlantic Conference, and the Wisconsin team came out with pace and excitement. Ali Menard opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a well-taken penalty after Emma Jaskaniec was brought down in the box. Jaskaniec herself added a second in the 40th minute with a nice individual run through the penalty box beating 2 defenders. Elyse Bennett nicely tucked the third on a break-away after a beautiful penetrating pass from Aryssa Mahrt. At 3-0, it looked like the game would cruise to the end, but a furious comeback by NC Fusion made for some nervous moments before the final whistle blew for a 3-2 win.
The U17s faced Atlanta club and new ECNL member Tophat from the ECNL Southeast Conference on day 2. Tophat took a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute on a nice finish from 20 yards, and went into the break with the narrow advantage. Several Jen Wandt saves had kept the game close in the opening half, and left an opening for redemption in the second half. Tophat seemed to pull away with a second goal in the 60th minute, but a Bianca Stubler cross led to a penalty which Mikaela Hoard buried to close the gap to one with 12 minutes to play. A few more chances for the U17s went wasted in the final minutes, leaving them close but one goal short in a 1-2 defeat.
The U16s played Birmingham United from Alabama in their second match, in a game that was end-to-end and highly entertaining for all watching. Birmingham struck first and then doubled the lead with some classy finishing, while the Wisconsin players were narrowly kept off the board multiple times. In the 58th minute Aryssa Mahrt combined with Elyse Bennett to beat 1 defender, beat 2 more on the dribble, and then connected again with Bennett to close the gap to one goal. Despite hitting the post and several more chances late, the team was unable to equalize, and fell 1-2. Sierra Koch and Steph Fronczak did an excellent job organizing the team and initiating new attacks from the back throughout the game.
The U16s finished the weekend with a game against Carolina Elite, again from the ECNL Southeast Conference. The Wisconsin crew started brightly, hitting the post twice in the first 10 minutes, and creating several more scoring chances that they couldn’t quite convert. Audrey Poorman was up and down the sidelines from left back. Unfortunately, a counter-attack gave Carolina the 1-0 lead in the 18th minute, which they carried into the halftime interval. FC Wisconsin pushed forward for the tie throughout the second half, but couldn’t find the equalizer and were caught out in 2 more counter-attack goals. The 0-3 scoreline did not do the work or the quality of the U16's play justice, but the weekend performance overall left everyone with much to look forward to in 2016.
The final game of the event featured another Atlanta match-up for the U17s, as they battled perennial ECNL Southeast Conference power GSA. From the opening, it was clear that the U17s were determined to take 3 points, as they dictated play early and often. In the 30th minute, Bianca Stubler made a great 40 yard run to put a service into the box, and Hannah Compernolle’s tenacity on the near-post forced GSA to put the ball out of touch over the endline. This determination was rewarded when Taylor Kerwin smashed the resulting corner into the back of the next on a nice volley from 12 yards. The second half saw some of the team’s best soccer in the weekend, and perhaps their best goal of the season. In the 75th minute Hannah Lech drove a 40 yard diagonal to put Stubler forward again in the left channel. Her endline service was powered into the back of the net by a header from Kerwin – a goal that earned applause from both sides of the field.
FC Wisconsin enters their mid-season break in January, when the ECNL teams have 4 weeks to rest and recover from the fall season, and then to begin preparations for the Spring Season. This spring each FC Wisconsin ECNL team has 8 Midwest Conference matches to play – making 2016 the biggest spring in club history!