Friday, February 7, 2014

Mixing it Up: Eastern Washington players aid Idaho ODP run

In January, USYS Region IV held the Regional ODP Championships in Phoenix, and while Cal South swept the event by winning all 10 brackets, Washington and Idaho represented the Northwest quite well with four Washington sides reaching the final and an Idaho squad featuring a large contingent of players from Eastern Washington advancing to the 1997G final.

Maegan O'Neill
"Right from the beginning we had great team chemistry and great camaraderie," team coach and State Director of Coaching Skyler Bell said of the 97 Idaho squad that had never trained together as a full group. "Leadership was a big part of that, particularly through co-captain Maegan O'Neill. Having her as a captain was a big deal – it really helped the Spokane players feel comfortable. Everyone played together as a team, and after the first half of the first game any question marks our coaching staff had were gone.”

Getting to this point has been a relatively quick process for a state ODP program that has a lengthy history of struggling to match their peers, and the 2014 Regional Championships could be the starting point for an unofficial partnership between Idaho and Eastern Washington in player development.

"This team has attended this event for the last three years, and it wasn’t until last year that it really became a great experience,” Bell said. "It was my first year and we had three players invited to national camps afterward. We started talking about the 2014 event right after 2013 was over, but some of the top players had conflicts, which led to a lot of players playing up."

That's where the contingent from the Spokane Shadow came into the mix.

"Most of the kids coming in from Washington were Shadow kids, although there are several clubs represented in Idaho ODP,” Bell said. “There were some question marks about how they were going to do, and the chemistry. The impact of having the Washington players was immense, especially on the girls’ side - very helpful. Those clubs have done a great job building the players. The Shadow girls tend to be the girls that want the ball and attack, while defensively they'll cut you down and go right through you with a smile while they do it."

"In general, as more and more players participate you can see the results. In the past, some of the Idaho teams were beaten badly. Now we are having teams in the final or at least being highly competitive, and we’ve had a lot of kids in the regional pool. It’s been a great thing for both areas with the proximity of our trainings to Spokane. It’s difficult for Washington and the Spokane kids when you have to choose between having to cross the state and snowy mountain passes versus local opportunities. This option provides a really good alternative to having to do that."

Coaches Brian Wilson Lee & Skyler Bell
with Boise's Grace Hancock
"We have had a lot of inquiries at other age levels already based off the success. We want to make a run at this again; we're not there for just a moral victory and a run to make the final. I think the 99s could do what the 98s did this year. We certainly still want the Washington players involved; they are great players that are coached well."

With news spreading of Idaho's mixed-squad success during January's trip to Phoenix, expect further incorporation of players throughout the Washington side of the border in the future.

"I think the two biggest supporters are FC Spokane and Shadow. I would agree that whether they are from Foxes, FC Spokane or whomever... all of the clubs over the years have provided fantastic players to Idaho ODP.

"We won't turn down anybody. We don't have the blessing of a high number of super quality players to turn anybody down. We provide a good place for players to showcase themselves. As they come, they will continue to get picked. There can’t be politics involved of who lives where, or what club you play for because we just can’t afford to turn away talent. If you’re good enough and committed to the program, you’re in."

Case in point is Natalie Kump, who hails from Elko, Nevada but spends time in residency in Canada and plays club ball in Las Vegas.

"I think the ODP program is another layer of exposure to college coaches and obviously another step towards the national pool of talent," said Riley Martinson's father Jim Martinson, the head women's coach at the Community Colleges of Spokane. "The intention of recognizing the best players in the nation starts at the state pool level. The ODP teams begin this process for kids. The ODP also allows kids to play with the most talented kids in the state, elevating their own skill set and in turn draws more attention from college programs.

"With the development of the RCL, ECNL and FWRL, there are several layers of exposure within the elite clubs throughout the country, but the ODP allows kids from different clubs to come together and compete."

Despite the new competitive opportunities at the club level, the state's ODP program still has flaws, which may incidentally be proving more fruitful in the long-term for Idaho and more players in the long run.

"The Washington EPD selection process has made it more difficult for the players from Eastern Washington to be recognized, which has led to more Spokane players heading to Idaho. Idaho still has an open tryout process and they also hold training sessions in three different locations throughout the state. Training for Eastern Washington kids going to Idaho saves time and money."

In essence, the mixed squads will allow more deserving, quality players to now compete at the regional ODP level by participating on state teams that would have had either lesser-talented players or no teams at all (see By The Numbers section below), which would negate the opportunities for the few players in the state that do deserve to be there.

"From a coach's standpoint you can recruit an ODP event and know you are seeing the most talented kids from each state," said Martinson. "Teams are playing together with minimal team training sessions which may help identify certain qualities and characteristics of players you may not see from club teams.  In the club setting the players are more comfortable and understand one another far better. Different qualities arise in the ODP process."

"From a parents perspective, I think it is great to see talented kids come together and play. The exposure to college programs is tremendous and the coaching the kids receive is outstanding. Riley is playing club ball for a university-level coach and the Idaho ODP staff is loaded with knowledge as well. This exposure and coaching is an experience she will always grow from and continue to get better. She has not played a match with the 1998 team yet. Not sure if they will keep her on 97 team or have play with the 98s in Sacramento; time will tell.  Obviously I'm very proud of her."

As for Riley herself, "she says that being able to play and train with so many great players is really fun," said her father. "She loves the coaching staff and has enjoyed becoming friends with players from so many different clubs. She loves the challenges of playing with and against so many talented players and hopes to advance through the ODP system and continue playing at a high level."


Alexandra Chambers
Idaho's run in the 1997 bracket started off with a 2-0 victory over Colorado with goals from Alexandra Chambers and Maegan O'Neill. Despite falling behind in the 70th minute to Oregon in the second game, the Idaho ladies rallied with an equalizer from Riley Martinson, the only freshman and youngest player on the side, nine minutes later to earn a 1-1 draw and a spot in the semifinals.

Chambers then added two more goals to her tournament tally as Idaho advanced to the Final with a 2-1 victory over Utah. She finished as the second leading scorer in the bracket with three of the teams five goals in the event.

"Alex was great," said Bell. "She was the only player I didn't know -- I first met her at warm-ups for our first game. She was replacing Kelsey Turnbow so there were big shoes to fill. She gelled extremely well personality-wise. She plays with her back to goal, but has the ability to be explosive, which made things difficult for defenders. She was great in two areas: poaching goals - two of them were unassisted where she would steal a ball and score or win a 50-50 ball; and she also did well setting up goals; I think she had two assists, including one at the death versus Oregon."

Megan Nilsson
The defense, meanwhile, was arguably the strong point of the team as it allowed just three goals in four games.

The goalkeeping crew was all Shadow with Ashlyn Juul and Megan Nilsson.

"Both were phenomenal," said Bell. "It was unfortunate Ashlyn was injured when she was kicked in the face in the Oregon game, but Megan came in to kill off the game for the final 10 minutes after playing first half. She absorbed a ton of pressure, and did a great job

"The keepers did a great job organizing the defense, along with co-captain Grace Hancock. They all did well, including in the Final. We played a very high line and put a lot of pressure on teams through the week."

Melissa Symmes
Melissa Symmes was one of Bell's highlight players of the week, especially considering the daunting task she faced versus Cal South.

"She came out of nowhere for me. In the final, their right forward is a national team player, as well as their attacking right midfielder. Symmes had to deal with two national team players. The right back, also a national team player, was also pushing up as another threat she had to deal with; and she frustrated all of them."

The Idaho coach was hard-pressed to come up with an actual MVP choice off the team, also noting good play from Erica Casey.

Cal South came away with the 1-0 victory for the championship. According to Bell, the Californians held the better of possession in the game, but it was not by very much.

1997 Idaho Girls Roster
Hailey Cason (Idaho Rush), Jennifer DeBoer (Boise Nationals, Rocky Mountain HS), Grace Hancock (FC Nova, Boise HS), Natalie Kump (Elko, NV), Sabrina Tarchione (Twin Falls HS) -- Spokane Shadow: Morgan Crosby (University), Maegan O'Neill (Ferris), Megan Nilsson (Mt Spokane), Ashlyn Juul (Mead), Riley Martinson (Deer Park), Larkin Russell (Gonzaga Prep), Melissa Symmes (Gonzaga Prep), Alex Chambers (Mead), Erica Casey (Central Valley), Emma Chappell (Lewis & Clark)

Other Results
Washington 1997B - Runners-Up
Washington 1999B - Runners-Up
Washington 2000B - Runners-Up
Washington 2001B - Runners-Up
Washington 1997G - Semifinalists
Washington 1999G - Semifinalists
 - Rilee Castilla (Kamiakin HS, ASE)
Washington 2001G - Semifinalists


Other than Cal South's sweep of the championships, Washington was a clear second in its performance with seven teams advancing to the semifinals, four of them moving onto the championship game. Cal North and Arizona each had six semifinalists, while Utah had five reach the final four. Out of those teams, though, only one Cal North team and one Utah squad moved onto their respective finals. Meanwhile, all three Colorado squads that reached the final four finished as runners-up for the event.

Washington teams as a whole went a combined 21-15-7 (Boys: 13-8-1 / Girls: 8-7-6) for the event as they participated in all 10 brackets. Only three teams finished with a negative goal differential. Oregon participated in seven brackets and finished with a combined record of 15-7-6 (7-3-2 / 8-4-4) with one team reaching the semifinals and only one team finishing with a negative goal differential. Idaho and Montana, meanwhile, each only sent four squads to the event. Idaho finished a combined 3-10-3 (1-6-1 / 2-4-2) while Montana was 0-16 with two teams in each age gender only scoring two goals combined, demonstrating that perhaps the Treasure State could use a similar program to help bring a greater breadth of players together.

Official Event Site [+]

L: Morgan Crosby, R: Larkin Russell -- Shadow & Ferris photos by Gerald Barnhart