Ohio Premier Eagles club director Chris King has seen his boys and girls soccer teams win numerous tournament titles the last 21 years, but he said none measures up to the latest championship.
The Eagles' U18 girls team captured a national title by winning the Elite Clubs National League tournament held June 21-24 in Aurora, Colo.
"The ECNL is the best girls soccer league in the country, so to win a national championship in this league is by far the pinnacle in our club's history thus far," King said. "The landscape of women's club soccer changed with the formation of the ECNL four years ago, and now the top 72 female clubs in the entire country are members of this league.
"It's sort of surreal to say that we're national champions. I'm happier for our girls than anything else because they've worked hard for this and they deserve it."
Seeded second among the 16 teams that qualified for the tournament, the Eagles won all four of their games in the event by one goal. They defeated the Colorado Rush 1-0 in the championship game June 24.
"The Colorado Rush was definitely one of the favorites to win this tournament because their girls are used to playing in the high elevation of their home state and they have eight national players on their team," King said. "We knew that they were going to possess the ball quite a bit, so our goal was just to keep them in front of us and to wait for our opportunities."
In the final, the Eagles scored the only goal with 32 minutes left when forward Lindsay Agnew, a 2013 Dublin Jerome High School graduate, gained possession near midfield, dribbled around defenders and crossed the ball to 2013 Jonathan Alder graduate Alexis Milesky, a forward who drilled a shot just inside the far post.
According to King, goalkeeper and 2013 Dublin Scioto graduate Anna Buhigas made several key saves in the final 15 minutes to preserve the shutout.
"This tournament was full of close, heart-wrenching games and this was another one," Agnew said. "Our defenders were very organized on the back line and (Buhigas) kept coming up big with her ninja saves."
The Eagles opened the tournament with a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Sting on June 21. Kelli Hubly, a forward from Elk Grove, Ill., scored on a breakaway to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead and defender Makenzie Costner, a 2013 Jerome graduate, scored on a penalty kick that was drawn by Agnew to put the Eagles ahead 2-1.
Hubly scored the winning goal with 12 minutes left.
"The Dallas Sting won national championships at U14 and U15, so this was a tough team to draw in the first round," King said. "It was a very good back-and-forth game, and our girls showed a lot of heart and determination to pull it out."
The Eagles defeated Real SoCal from California 2-1 in double overtime in the second round June 22.
Bailey Wilson, a midfielder and 2013 Dublin Coffman graduate, scored on a header in the first half to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead, but Real SoCal tied the game late in the second half to force overtime.
The teams battled through two 10-minute overtime periods, with Coffman senior forward Sam Edwards scoring the winning goal with three minutes remaining in the second overtime.
"(Buhigas) passed the ball to me and I served it across to the front of the net," Agnew said. "Their goalie fumbled it and Sam was there to finish it. Real SoCal was a very physical, tough team, so that was another big win for us."
The Eagles then defeated two-time defending national champion CASL Chelsea from Raleigh, N.C., 2-1 in a semifinal that began June 23 but was suspended because of lightning and completed the next day, right before the final.
Hubly scored on a shot from about 40 yards out to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead, but CASL Chelsea tied the game with 15 minutes remaining, shortly before officials suspended the contest.
The next day, Agnew scored what proved to be the winning goal with seven minutes left off an assist from Milesky.
"Alexis fed me with a perfect serve across the box and I just volleyed it in," Agnew said. "There were so many great games and every moment was full of adrenaline because you knew that one play could make the difference.
"When the tournament was over, a lot of our parents were crying and hugging us. A lot of us were crying, too, because we're like a big family and this is something special that we've been vying for since we were little kids."