Winchester United U-12 soccer team wins regional title

The Winchester United U-12 soccer team poses for a picture after winning the USYSA Region I President's Cup in Reisterstown, Maryland recently. Front Row: Mikayla Balio, Olivia Walker, Riley Donelan, Sidney Rathel, Shayla Fitzsimmons-Call, and Adyson Gloyd. Back Row: Coach Elizabeth Pike, Caron Foltz, Julia Nerangis, Kendall Lincoln, Sadie Kerns, Hannah Fletcher, Jessica Alamo, Peyton Duvall, and Coach Cosmo Balio. Courtesy photo/Cosmo Balio

The U-12 Winchester United girls youth soccer team recently made history.

The 14-player team, which consists of players from Winchester, Frederick County and Warren County, won the U.S. Youth Soccer 2016 Region I Presidents Cup over Memorial Day weekend held in Reisterstown, Maryland.

“We’ve always joked we want to be the first team to do a lot of stuff, and so that’s kind of been their mantra,” U-12 coach Cosmo Balio said, in a phone interview Wednesday.

Balio, who is the Handley High School varsity boys soccer coach, and Shenandoah University women’s soccer coach Liz Pike having been coaching together in the program since 2009.

He said that this is the first time an area team has won the regional Presidents Cup.

The Winchester United U-12 team qualified for the Region I Presidents Cup by winning the state Presidents Cup last fall.

The Winchester United didn’t win the regional title the easy way. The team lost their first match on May 28, 5-2, to Ukrainian Nationals Slava Black, which was based out of Philadelphia and was the No. 2 team out of Eastern Pennsylvania.

There were 12 teams in the regionals with four teams placed in three different divisions. Each team played three games in a round-robin format and the three division winners advanced to the semifinals. There was also a wild card team selected, which was the second best team out of the non-division winners.

Balio said after losing their first match, they weren’t optimistic about their chances in the tournament.

“We kind of thought that the tournament was over for us,” Balio said. “We’d just finish out the weekend, because really you have to win all your games to move on in tournaments like that.”

He said that that he and Pike didn’t give any big motivational speeches after the loss.

“We said listen we lost the game, and it’s all right. Let’s finish these two games out strong and see where we go from there,” Balio said.

Later in the day, the Winchester United defeated Allegheny Force FC, 4-3,  the top team out of Western Pennsylvania, Balio said.

On May 29, the Winchester United beat East Haven Swarm, 6-1. The win was decisive enough that it sent the Winchester United into the semifinals as the wildcard team. Balio said the United had the biggest score differential, which is what was used to determine the wildcard team.

“The girls were pretty ecstatic when they found out they were actually going to be in the semifinals,” Balio said. “And we were just like ‘holy cow.’ We went from thinking let’s play three games and go home to we’re staying overnight to play in the finals. So that was kind of a real shift in everything. Once we got into the semis, it’s like ‘all right guys we’re in the semis. Let’s go win this thing.'”

The Winchester United faced tough competition in the semis. The team had to play Montgomery United Fury, which was the top team out of Eastern Pennsylvania.

Balio said that the Montgomery United Fury coach told him the Fury had lost only two games in three years. The Winchester United knocked that team off in the semifinals, 3-2.

The Winchester United then played in the final on May 30 and avenged an earlier loss to Ukrainian Nationals Slava Black, 3-1.

“Myself and Liz, we were pretty stoked about what we were able to do with the group,” Balio said. “Being able to do what really no other team, on we call it this side of the mountain (Clarke County, Frederick and Warren County), has done. We were really proud of what the kids had did.”

Balio said that there is a national tournament for the region winners, but it’s only for the older teams, so this was as far as the U-12 team could go.

Balio said the Winchester United plays in the Washington Area Girls Soccer league, and regularly plays against teams from Loudoun County, Prince William County as well as other teams from Maryland and D.C. area.

He said that playing against strong competition year-round has helped. The Winchester United also played in the Washington Area Girls Soccer tournament on June 3-5 and was crowned league champions.

“That’s kind of the icing on the cake,” Balio said. “…That’s a huge accomplishment for them as well, because that’s the top of the top for the travel soccer that’s out there for girls soccer. So this U-12 age group is doing pretty well for us.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com