By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
Not to be overshadowed by the World Cup, some Huntingdon Valley Athletic Association players are making their own run for a title.
The HVAA’s U14 Freedom travel girls soccer team flew down to Greenville, South Carolina this week to compete in the National Championships taking place July 9 to 13. They are the first team in HVAA’s history to qualify for regionals at any level, let alone advance past them to nationals.
“We’ve had an up and down season,” said coach Jose Gomez. “At one point we barely finished the fall season — we had about eight girls.”
The team saw a streak of injuries that ranged from a broken elbow to concussions to severely sprained ankles. After two months off in the winter, the girls healed up and got ready for what would be five straight months of competitive play.
“As a smaller organization, a lot of people think we can’t compete with the bigger clubs,” Gomez said. “Every player on the field holds it down. That’s the strength of our team. We play as a unit.”
Gomez first saw something special develop for the team during Baltimore Mania, an elite tournament that took place toward the end of March. It was freezing cold and raining with 20–25 mph winds.
“It was just an unpleasant way to play soccer. Some kids didn’t even want to come out of their cars,” Gomez said.
The team persevered. They won every game in the elite bracket, facing several teams from other states and moving on to play the Ukrainian Nationals, another Philadelphia-area team, in the finals. The entire game was played in freezing rain and ended in a 1–0 victory for the HVAA Freedom.
“The team that showed the strongest will was going to win that game,” Gomez said. “They came together and executed. From there, I knew they were going to have a good spring.”
HVAA rolled through to spring and right up into the Eastern Pennsylvania President’s Cup, a statewide championship played in Pittsburgh. The Freedom lost to the Hershey Elite in the championship game, but advanced to represent Region 1 as a wildcard in regionals.
In regionals, HVAA defeated teams from New Jersey, Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Maryland and eventually found itself in the championship game. Again, they were up against their rival, the Hershey Elite, but this time HVAA won 3–1, locking up their place in nationals.
they will compete as one of four teams for the national title. The other three teams are based out of California, Illinois and Tennessee.
HVAA was founded in the 1950s, but this is its first team to see this level of success. It has a lot to do with the club’s expansion from mostly in-house leagues to organizing travel teams over the past 10 or so years.
“The landscape has changed where we are now building players, getting them ready for the high school system,” Gomez said. “This way, a coach doesn’t have to start from scratch, they can complement a player who already has talent and work them into their system of play.”
Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Lower Moreland High School girls team was champion of the Bicentennial Athletic League for the past two years. Seven of the 18 girls on the current HVAA U14 team are planning to attend LMHS next year and going out for the soccer team. Others are headed to other area schools like Neshaminy High School, William Tennent, Archbishop Wood and Archbishop Ryan.
But before then, these girls hope to bring home a national title.
“They really enjoy to play the game. Some teams just go through the motions or do it socially,” Gomez said. “When you love the game and love to compete, you can pretty much play against anyone.”