They wanted their own club. Now, they’re U-18 na­tional cham­pi­ons.

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Giana Han

As the ref­eree blew the fi­nal whis­tle in the girls un­der-18 ti­tle game at the United States Youth Soc­cer Na­tional Cham­pi­onships on July 28, Phoebe Canoles took off to­ward Alyssa Min­nick. On the last day Premier Navy 2001 was a team, on the last day of the Premier Soc­cer Club’s ex­is­tence and on the last day they would be team­mates in a 12-year ca­reer to­gether, Canoles and Min­nick fi­nally ac­com­plished their goal of winning a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

The en­tire team was cry­ing and pil­ing on each other on that emo­tional Sun­day in Over­land Park, Kansas. But for Canoles and Min­nick, the two re­main­ing play­ers of the five girls who be­gan their careers on a boys team be­fore form­ing an elite soc­cer club of their own, this win was even more spe­cial.

As kids, Canoles and Min­nick, along with three other girls, played on the Over­lea soc­cer team with the boys. Oc­ca­sion­ally, boys would com­plain that there were girls start­ing over them be­cause, in their view, girls weren’t sup­posed to best them in sports, Canoles said.

When the girls turned 8, the par­ents asked Canoles’ dad, Jimmy, to coach, and they formed a team at Parkville, an all-girls

soc­cer pro­gram.

Jimmy Canoles said he knew as soon as he saw those five girls play­ing with the boys that they were some­thing spe­cial. Af­ter the first year of tour­na­ments with the Parkville girls team, Jimmy Canoles said two goals were set: winning a na­tional cham­pi­onship and get­ting the girls to col­lege pro­grams.

Kiana Miller, who joined what is now called Premier three years ago, said those as­pi­ra­tions were what drew her to the club, al­though the team’s grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion in­tim­i­dated those who wanted to play for them.

The girls are nor­mal high school stu­dents who love to dance to Meek Mill and gather at Olive Gar­den, but Jimmy Canoles said they also have a rep­u­ta­tion through­out the coun­try. They set high stan­dards for them­selves, and they ex­pect the same of any­one who tries out.

“I feel like for our goals that our team had, if there weren’t a lot of peo­ple go­ing to play col­lege soc­cer, then what were they play­ing on this team for?” Min­nick said.

Aim­ing for a na­tional cham­pi­onship was the best way to pre­pare for col­lege, Min­nick said. She was the first on her team to com­mit when she said yes to Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­sity as a sopho­more. She later switched her com­mit­ment to UMBC.

Min­nick said play­ing in the United States Youth Soc­cer Na­tional League with Premier was the most crit­i­cal part of her re­cruit­ment process. Over 600 col­lege coaches at­tend Na­tional League events.

When the girls hit U-15, Jimmy Canoles switched to as­sis­tant coach and made the club’s di­rec­tor of coach­ing, Val Teix­eira, the head coach. With his con­nec­tions as a for­mer pro­fes­sional in­door soc­cer player for the Har­ris­burg Heat and his ex­ten­sive re­cruit­ing knowl­edge, Teix­eira, the coach at Notre Dame Prep, played a crit­i­cal role in help­ing the girls go through col­lege re­cruit­ment.

Jimmy Canoles said the two Premier teams Teix­eira has coached have had the most play­ers go on to play col­lege soc­cer. Some now play pro­fes­sion­ally overseas, Teix­eira said, and one cur­rent mem­ber of Premier Navy 2001, Emma Bo­cane­gra, has played for the Peru­vian na­tional team.

In ad­di­tion to Min­nick, Phoebe Canoles and Madi­son Carr are headed to Tow­son, Alexan­dra Fava to Ken­tucky, Lauren Gwin to Steven­son, Bri­ana Bush to Get­tys­burg, Elyssa Nowowieski to Camp­bell, Elisa Pic­cir­illi to Mar­shall, Hannah Steele to Charleston South­ern and Bo­cane­gra to Johns Hopkins. With ju­nior Aya Neal’s ver­bal com­mit­ment to Charleston South­ern, that makes 11 out of 21 play­ers with plans to play col­lege soc­cer. Ris­ing se­niors Leia Black and So­phie Elguera also re­ceived of­fers at this year’s tour­na­ment, Teix­eira said.

Even as they achieved their col­lege soc­cer goals, the girls still had one more left to ac­com­plish. They had to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

The team fell just short last year when it lost by one goal in the semi­fi­nals. The girls knew the 2019 tour­na­ment was not only the last chance for the nine se­niors on the team to com­pete for the ti­tle be­fore head­ing to col­lege, but also the last time they could play for the Premier Soc­cer Club, which will merge with Cop­per­mine next year.

To get there, they had to com­pete in the Na­tional League, which con­sists of seven games across two events. Teams that win the league get a free pass to the tour­na­ment. The rest must com­pete in state and then re­gional cham­pi­onships to qual­ify. Premier Navy 2001 made it in by winning the league.

There was a mo­ment of fear this year when they thought their record wouldn’t be good enough, Min­nick said. But they made it in, and soon enough they were pour­ing wa­ter on their coach’s head in cel­e­bra­tion of a 2-1 win over the Lady Lo­bos Rush Premier from Ten­nessee in the fi­nal.

“It was a per­fect end­ing,” Teix­eira said. “That was the mo­ment we looked at each other and said ev­ery sin­gle thing we missed with our fam­ily and friends was worth it for this mo­ment.”

Jimmy Canoles said he saw Phoebe Canoles and Min­nick run to each other.

“It was a very mov­ing time,” Jimmy Canoles said. “They could have gone other places. … They were like, ‘We started this and we wanted to fin­ish this.’ And they did.”

Then Phoebe Canoles turned and tack­led him.

With the vic­tory, Premier Navy 2001 be­came the sec­ond girls soc­cer team from Mary­land to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship. The con­grat­u­la­tions texts flooded in from fam­ily and friends — and some of the boys who Phoebe Canoles and Min­nick played with as kids.

The girls will keep the mo­ment with them for­ever — some of them phys­i­cally.

Phoebe Canoles said many of her team­mates are go­ing to get the date — July 28, which just hap­pens to be Na­tional Soc­cer Day — tat­tooed on them. She’s go­ing to get it on her foot.

Even with­out the ink, Phoebe Canoles will al­ways re­mem­ber the mo­ment.

“Ev­ery time I step on the field, I think about this team,” she said.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Phoebe Canoles is headed to Tow­son.

VAL TEIX­EIRA PHOTO

Premier Navy 2001 poses for a team photo af­ter winning the girls un­der-18 ti­tle game at the United States Youth Soc­cer Na­tional Cham­pi­onships on July 28 in Over­land Park, Kansas.

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