When the Classics Eagles Girls U16 Black team went 0-2-1 in the Ohio Elite Showcase in late February, nobody in the program likely envisioned celebrating a United States Youth Soccer national championship in mid-July.
But that's what happened, as the team defeated Lady Nomad of Nevada 2-0 on July 13 to win the Presidents Cup in Greenville, S.C.
"Once the girls learned our style of soccer, which is possession-oriented and building from the back, they improved every day and worked so well as an entire group," said Cara Fisher, who coached the team with husband Auggie Fisher. "That's what was so unique about this team. We didn't have a star or two we relied on.
"We had a truly amazing group of girls and the captains interacted well and were very encouraging, and that trickled down to all the girls. They worked so hard and bonded so well."
The captains for the Eagles, who finished 21-5-4, were goalkeeper Kelsey Hill (Olentangy High School), forward Hailey Pickelheimer (Olentangy Liberty), defender Sarah Benson (Watterson) and midfielder Marissa Eau Claire (Olentangy).
The roster also featured midfielders Brenna Driver (Dublin Coffman), Kaylin Jankowski (Olentangy), Emily Kirchner (Coffman) and Mikaela Stefanik (Liberty), forwards Tyger Devore (Olentangy), Danielle DiMarzo (Olentangy), Savanna Love (Pickerington North) and Nicole Wilcox (Logan) and defenders Lauren Hicks (Watterson), Sophie Fallieras (Liberty), Giovanna Farinazo (Olentangy Orange) and Abbey McHugh (Coffman).
The Eagles outscored their four opponents 6-1 in the national tournament. The lone goal allowed was in the pool play opener when the Eagles beat Nashua World Cup of New Hampshire 2-1.
Hill was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
"The award was given to me and it was a big honor, but truthfully it was a team award because we gave up the fewest goals as a team," Hill said. "We played tremendous defense. They kept me in good situations, where most of the shots I had to handle weren't difficult stops."
In the championship game, Wilcox scored in the 16th minute and Kirchner scored her third goal of the tournament in the 58th minute. The Eagles were glad to have the second goal, as they were forced to play the final 20 minutes down a player.
The Eagles defeated TSC Elite of Georgia 1-0 in the second game of pool play and Lady Nomad 1-0 in the third game of pool play before the rematch in the championship game. Devore scored in the 30th minute against TSC Elite and Driver scored in the 51st minute in the third pool game.
None of the games was as dramatic as the Region II championship June 15 in Overland Park, Kan. After going 2-0-1 in pool play, the Eagles faced St. Louis Scott Gallagher Red in the final and won 2-0 in overtime.
After the teams were scoreless through 90 minutes of regulation, Pickelheimer scored in the 92nd minute and Stefanik scored in the 99th minute.
"This is such a surreal feeling," Benson said. "When it was over, I think we all looked at each other for a few seconds, had a sigh of relief, then we ran to midfield and celebrated and began looking for our parents and family to celebrate with them, too."
The Eagles won the state championship by beating Cincinnati Soccer Association Premier 3-0 on May 11. Proof that the team continued to improve through the season is that the Eagles went just 5-0-3 to win their league: the Buckeye Premier League, Elite I Division.
"It was such an enjoyable season," Benson said. "We had new coaches who taught a great style of soccer that centered on passing and sharing and everyone had a lot of opportunities. There was zero drama, we all became close friends and loved each other. It was the epitome of what a team should be.
"It's the first team I've ever been on where everyone came together for a single purpose. I've never had coaches who cared so much and were so dedicated to teaching everyone. They matched our effort, intensity and time and everyone was always on the same page."
The Eagles also were honored with the Fair Play Sportsmanship Award in the national championship.
Auggie and Cara Fisher met while playing soccer at Otterbein University.
"We've coached together for eight years and next year will be a new challenge," Cara Fisher said. "We've never coached a boys team, so we're going to do that since most of these girls are moving up a division. But I don't know if we'll ever be fortunate enough to have this type of season with such a unique group of players."