Mary Seiffert is thrilled to see her Classics Eagles Red Under-18 girls soccer team break through to the regional level.
After finishing as runner-up in the State Cup each of the past two years, Seiffert's team will compete in the Midwest Regional Cup, which runs from Friday, June 22, through Wednesday, June 27, in Westfield, Indiana, just 20 miles north of Indianapolis.
"We were runner-up for the last two seasons, so the girls were really excited to win the State Cup," said Seiffert, whose team defeated Cincinnati Development Academy Premier 3-2 in the State Cup final May 20 at Voice of America Park in West Chester. "After we lost to (Cincinnati United Premier) Gold (5-2) last year in the final, one of our captains, Abby Jones, told her teammates that they would be the ones celebrating next year, and that working toward that started right then. They were able to live up to that."
Seiffert coaches one of three Classics Eagles teams headed to the Midwest Regional Cup and one of six central Ohio squads that qualified. The Classics Eagles Red U13 and U15 boys teams also advanced to regional, as did the Club Ohio U16 Green 1 boys, the Club Ohio U17 Green 1 boys and the Ohio Premier U18 NL boys teams.
More than 270 preliminary games will be played as boys and girls US Youth Soccer State Cup champions, select wildcards and Midwest Regional League qualifiers in the U13 through U19 age groups compete. All of the age groups have been divided into three- or four-team brackets, with each team playing a game within its bracket June 22, Saturday, June 23, and Sunday, June 24.
The bracket winners advance to semifinals Tuesday, June 26, with regional finals being played the next day.
Regional champions in each age group advance to the U.S. Youth Soccer Association National Championships, scheduled for July 24-28 in Frisco, Texas.
The Red U18 girls and the Red U15 boys teams both are headed to regional as State Cup champions, while the Red U13 boys squad earned a wild-card berth.
Even though her team is making its first trip to regional, Seiffert said the players will feel the usual pressure when they take the field.
"They have put in a lot of work to get there, and they always put a lot of pressure on themselves," Seiffert said. "It's not nerves as much as high expectations. They are excited that they got there and, if they play their game, things could go pretty well for them."
The Red U18 girls team has a balanced attack, led by three forwards in 2018 Olentangy Orange High School graduate Delaney Earl and Jones and Abby Townsend, both of whom are 2018 Olentangy Liberty graduates.
Other key players include defender and 2018 Olentangy Orange graduate Cassidy Ryan, midfielder and DeSales senior Madi Rennie and goalkeeper and Westerville South senior Jenna Villacres.
The Red U15 boys team advanced by defeating Cincinnati TFA Elite 2-1 a shootout in the State Cup final. The squad also won its semifinal in a shootout, 1-0 over the Cincinnati Star SC Panthers.
"We needed a wild-card (berth) to get out of our (State Cup) group and we won both the semifinal and final in shootouts," coach Josh Diehl said. "We played almost a whole extra game because of the extra time and overtime at state. The players handled that well."
Team leaders include midfielder Ryan Miller (Olentangy Berlin), defender Charlie Debolt (Orange) and goalie Ethan Hegg (Berlin).
"We have a really solid group and we're peaking at the right time," Diehl said. "The difference between being a good and a great team is that they figure out that we're a unit and it takes all of us to get the job done. They have learned that."
The Red U13 boys team defeated Club Ohio Green 1 1-0 in a State Cup semifinal before losing to Cincinnati United Premier 05 Pre-DA 2-0 in the final.
"If you don't win the State Cup, it's based on regional play in the Midwest Regional League," coach Mike Lentz said. "We played in the top division and were able to earn one of four wild-card spots."
The team is led by defenders Caden Collins and Jacob Storrer, midfielder Brady Smith, forward Tristan Sze and goalie Caden Whiteside, all of whom attend Olentangy schools.
"Our team is very organized and works well together," Lentz said. "A lot of teams bring players from different areas, but our kids come from the Olentangy community and that really adds to their cohesion."
Both of the Club Ohio teams that qualified for regional are coached by Mike Lawrence with the help of the club's director of coaching, Steve Dawson, who coached the Wittenberg University men's team from 1982-2014.
The U17 Green 1 boys won their third consecutive State Cup by defeating CUP Gold 2-0 in the final.
"The (U17) team has its strength in the midfield and at forward," Lawrence said. "We're pretty dangerous up front. We have three, four, five guys who can score for us and the key is getting those guys to find the back of the net. You can't double-team any of them or that opens things up for the others."
Team leaders include forwards Ludwig Conrad (Liberty) and Jack Francisco (DeSales), midfielders Jaggar Brooker (Liberty), Colin Kirkley (Dublin Coffman) and Ethan Love (Hilliard Bradley), defender Connor DesRoches (Coffman) and goalie Theron Handlon (Liberty).
The U16 Green 1 boys earned their second consecutive trip to regional by defeating CUP Gold 3-0 in the final. Last summer, the squad was a wild-card entry.
"The (U16) team finds its strength in the midfield with kids who can contribute both offensively and defensively," Lawrence said. "We have a lot of guys who can score from different places on the field, and they can help both the forwards and defenders."
The midfield is led by Young Mu Lee (Dublin), Jason Stewart (Lewis Center) and Matthew McLaughlin, who plays for Cleveland St. Ignatius. Other key players include forwards Chris Guerra (Worthington) and David Urrea Partida (Dublin) and defenders Charlie Riddle (Hilliard) and Ryan Walters (Marysville).
"I think last year was a good experience for both teams," Lawrence said. "We were in tough groups, but we got that experience. This year, they are a little more confident and hopefully we can go a little further and do better."
Coach Alan Yost said his OP U18 NL team has expectations of winning its division heading into regional.
Last season, the squad won its pool with a 2-1 record, but lost to Chicago Raiders FC 1-0 in a semifinal. This year, it qualified for regional by defeating Canal Winchester Pride SC 00B Premier 2-0 in the State Cup final.
"I think they are hungry and want to prove a point," said Yost, who coaches the Capital men's team. "This year, they know they are capable of winning the region. We have played the best teams for the past two or three years, so we know what to expect. We'll be disappointed if we don't win the final, but injuries, referees and weather can all play a factor.
"You need a little luck to win it. There's no question about it. We have beaten some of the best teams in the region and the best team in the country, and we hope to make it to the final."
OP U18 NL is loaded with talent, including midfielder Noah Boffo and midfielder/forward Drew Fischer of New Albany, midfielder Christian Buendia and defender Owen Sullivan of St. Charles, midfielder Christian Gomez of DeSales and goalie Jacob Castro of Hilliard Bradley. Castro is a West Virginia recruit.
"The talent pool we have is ridiculous," Yost said. "Coaching these guys is easy. I'm blessed to have a team like this because it's hard to pick out who would be our top players."