The determination, the sweat, the tears – all are part of the game, yet each characteristic is taken to new heights when it comes to the US Youth Soccer National Championships. Some teams know that with the National Championships comes a specific feeling – a specific atmosphere – and some teams are experiencing it all for the first time.
For St. Charles-based 18U Girls Campton United 1 (IL), 2018 marks the team’s third appearance at the National Championships, first competing in 2015 and again in 2016.
The Illinois side punched an early ticket to this year’s Nationals through the National League, clinching the Black Division title with an undefeated record in seven games. As the team clinched a spot in January in Bradenton, Fla., the excitement and momentum has been building for quite some time now.
“To be participating in the 2018 National Championships is very exciting,” head coach Scott Keena said. “Nationals is an event only a few players will experience through their youth careers. We have worked hard for this opportunity, and we will be looking to make the most of it.”
Taking a look back, Campton United first earned a spot in the 2015 National Championships after qualifying as a Midwest Regional Championships representative. The team did not make it out of group play in Tulsa, Okla., but it managed to earn another shot the following year. In 2016, Campton United placed second in its group to go to the knockout rounds but fell short in the National Championships semifinal match in Frisco, Texas.
The streak of appearing at Nationals broke in 2017 when Campton United did not qualify through the National League or the Midwest Regional Championships. During the 2016-17 National League season, only two points separated Campton United and the division winner in the standings. At the Midwest Regional Championships, one goal for its opponent prevented Campton United from advancing out of group play.
“That was really hard,” center defender Jenna Dombrowski said about not moving on to Nationals. “We were so close, and I think that’s what was so hard about it, but I think that really motivated us. I think that really pushed us because we never wanted to feel like that again.”
Campton United has avoided that feeling by bouncing back from last year’s performance and doing well in National League. The early ticket to Nationals is not what the team is accustomed to, but that is exactly what the players wanted.
“This group has worked tirelessly to win every league or cup competition this year,” Keena said. “We won National League, winning all games and only giving up one goal against some of the country’s best teams. Winning National League was a first for this group as the previous seasons we have fallen short, so winning in such style was a fantastic achievement.”
The 2017-18 season was Campton United’s third season in the National League. Even though the team was not a newcomer, the season still brought out tough competition.
“All of the teams there were very competitive, so it brought out the best of our game, and we were just super lucky to be able to play against that caliber of teams,” Dombrowski said. “After we found out that we qualified, we were just so happy and excited. National League was a great way to get into [Nationals] because the teams were so good, and they really prepared us for Texas.”
While Campton United already had a spot at Nationals, the 2018 Midwest Regional Championships in Westfield, Ind., also served as great preparation for the team.
“We definitely still came in with the mindset to win,” Dombrowski said. “We never really come into things halfway. If we’re in it, we’re all in. That’s what I love about this team. Whatever objective we have, we show up for it. We compete.”
Hungry for the win, Campton United competed in its third regional final match but fell short.
“Regionals is a tough event to win,” Keena said. “Only the first-place team qualifies from the group to the semifinals, so there’s very little room for error. We were a finalist again this year and were unlucky to not win, but we will be looking to push for another chance in the 2018-19 season.”
Since its first Nationals debut in 2015, Campton United has maintained a few players who experienced that first National Championships run, but the team has also picked up a load of new players who will be experiencing the competition for the first time.
“I do believe that for all the girls on the team that being part of this event is a very special thing,” Keena said. “We set the goal at the start of the year to win a National Championship, so now having the opportunity to fulfill that goal is very special.”
Dombrowski is among the girls who will be competing at Nationals for the first time. She has heard great things about the event but won’t know the exact feeling until she steps onto the field for the first time. Along with this being her first experience, Dombrowski is also one of the few girls who graduated from high school this year, so there are a number of reasons why she wants to succeed at Nationals.
“It’s kind of a ‘go out with a bang’ type of thing,” Dombrowski said. “I’m looking to go off on such a great season. I just want to win with these girls. The team has really pushed me and developed me into the player I am today, so I owe a lot of who I am as a player to them. It’s going to be pretty emotional, but we’re there to complete an objective, and I think we’re going to show up no matter what.”
After a successful soccer season, Campton United holds the confidence to do well on the big stage for round three of the National Championships.
“This year is a little different, as we will be graduating a few of our players into their college programs, so having them finish their youth careers with a National title would be a dream come true,” Keena said. “This being said, we feel that we can beat anyone, and we will be setting the goal to bring a National Championship back to Chicago this year.”