LAKEWOOD RANCH — Catherine Byrne isn’t one to sit back and wait for someone else to step up.
Instead, the Braden River High junior defender is usually the one caught up in the middle of all the action. So when a torn hamstring prohibited Byrne from competing in the Atlanta Cup U-17 girls A Division Tournament alongside the rest of her Braden River Soccer Club teammates, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
But as the tournament progressed, Byrne lost sight of not being able to compete and instead focused on cheering on her teammates.
“Watching it was kind of (neat),” Byrne said. “Just to see everything we work on in practice — it was cool to watch and see us improve as a team.”
It was the Rage’s third time competing in the Atlanta Cup. After defeating the 15th- and 16th-ranked soccer clubs in Georgia, the Rage moved onto the championship game to face 13th ranked ASX Extreme Blue.
The two teams remained scoreless through regulation and double overtime. Finding itself down 2-0 with two shots to go in a shootout, Braden River’s Martine Miller and Ally Titsworth each found the back of the net to once again tie the game.
Rage goalkeeper Catherine Kasper blocked the ASX’s next two shots, sending the game into sudden death. Kasper blocked another shot before Meredith Argeros sent a shot ricocheting off the ASX goalie’s fingertips to put Braden River ahead. Kasper followed with a diving stop to seal the Rage’s first Atlanta Cup victory.
“The competition level was really high in Atlanta,” Titsworth said. “We saw a lot more competition there than we do in our league season, so it caught us a little off guard at first.”
“That was probably the best soccer they’ve played in their lives,” head coach Rick Potino said. “I was really impressed with the way we moved the ball and played defense. We scored 15 goals and only had three scored on us.”
The Braden River Soccer Club’s U17 girls team formed this past spring after Potino and assistant coach Mark Wolfe invited 18 girls to come out and play 3v3 as teams called Just For Kicks as a way to get the girls reenergized about the sport.
“Most of us have been playing together since the sixth grade, so we didn’t want to depart when we had to switch clubs,” Titsworth said.
The team began practicing and soon the girls insisted on adding another practice to their schedule.
“Some of them had lost the fun of playing the game, so we wanted to get them out here and hopefully get them to enjoy the game again,” Wolfe said. “When they all began insisting on two practices instead of one because they were enjoying themselves so much — that’s when we knew something special was happening.”
The girls placed second and fourth in their first tournament before going on to win the next three, including winning the Disney 3v3 U-16 National Championship in their final tournament.
In August, the Rage, which now includes 19 players, began competing in league play. Braden River is 8-0-1 in league play, having outscored its opponents 36-5. The team is currently ranked 12th in the state of Florida according to gotsoccer.com.
With the core group of girls having played together for the past six years at different soccer clubs across the area, the team is once again learning how to have fun while staying competitive at the same time.
“They’re very high-energy,” Potino said. “Their camaraderie is very strong; they fight for each other; their team bond is very strong; and on top of that they’re all very good athletes.”
On Oct. 10-12, the Rage will compete in the Adidas Columbus Day Cup in Tampa, where they will face some of the top-ranked teams across the state of Florida. However, Braden River has already started looking ahead to its ultimate goals — going undefeated, ranking in the top 10 in the state and reaching the Final Four of the State Cup.
“We definitely want to make a well-known name for ourselves,” Byrne said.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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