Coach John Napier with Soccer Player Kayla Mills who was just called into the National player pool this week in Florida
John Napier Reports on ODP Convoy to Arizona
If you happened to be driving on the mighty I10 freeway on the morning of the 14th January 2011, you could not but notice the convoy of vans following each other across the Arizona desert. There were 16 total, each carrying excited young soccer players on their way to Phoenix Arizona for the yearly Regional Championships. The cars contained over 150 players with stars in their eyes, some making the trip for the very first time.
All the Western States sent soccer teams to participate, even the beautiful State of Hawaii. It was a full weekend of soccer, the weather was fantastic and the competition was really strong. Over 100 college coaches attended the games including the U.S. National and Regional Coaches for all age groups. "This certainly was the weekend to step up and make a statement."
All the Cal South teams were housed in the same hotel; each team had a head coach, and assistant coach and a team manager. We also had goalkeeper coaches to help. We had two full time trainers that took care of any player needs. These guys probably worked harder than anybody on our staff, with the number of games played and players involved, they were constantly working with the players up to 16 hour days.
We also had a video person that elevated their camera about 40 feet high and was able to give us instant feedback on CDs so we could watch the day's action back at the hotel... if we coaches felt there were breakdowns or tactical decisions that needed to be taken care of. This can be so important for some teams, and is a big part of the modern game of soccer.
Also pictures were taken daily by Luis Salcedo (Competition Manager from the Cal South Office Staff) and were uploaded to the Cal South website almost immediately.
Scouts were brought in to analyze the games and teams that we were to play against in upcoming games. My scout for my girls 95 team was Ali Khosroshahin, the head women's coach at USC. Khosroshahin prepared a great breakdown of games for me and my staff.
|Inside the ODP experience: The long road to Arizona brings to mind the famous question "Are we there yet?" Then we have the chance to see the GU 95 girls preparing for the tournament and lastly, the final day ... breakfast before the big game.
Cal South certainly provides what is necessary to compete and win at this level of play.
Most of our food was catered at the hotel because of the different times of numerous games being played during the day and evening. Down time including "school study" which was a very important part of the weekend. Some soccer teams played as many as six games in four days, so rest was essential.
This tournament is very well organized; it was played at the beautiful Reach 11 Soccer Complex just north of Phoenix. It has eighteen (18) full size soccer fields with lights, and all are in immaculate condition. This is a pretty new facility, and the Regional Championships were moved here from Las Vegas about 3 years ago.
You can only imagine with so many kids coming and going all day from the hotel to the fields (which were about a 15 minute drive), we never really seemed to get together as a whole group, and off course when you are with your own group you have your own list of priorities, the most important getting to the final game. With my 95 girls, we had 20 players, 2 coaches, team manager, and goalkeeper coach.
It was decided by Kathy and Steve Hoffman that Sunday night would be a good time to get all the kids together and have a fun evening, each age group was asked to perform a dance routine and we had judges, just like on "American Idol." It was a lot of fun, and it took away a lot of the pressure of soccer. There was a 10 pm curfew each evening and room checks for the teams, some soccer teams had early games, and breakfast was sometimes as early as 6.30am, to allow for proper digestion before the 9 am games.
By the time Monday came, the tension was getting a little tighter; the bracket play would finish that morning and all the semi final games would be late afternoon Monday. The news came through about mid day that seven of the original eight teams from Cal South made it to the semi final of their age bracket to be played that late afternoon. Cell phones are a wonderful thing!
Monday evening was going to be huge. I was focused on my team as we had a real tough game against our rivals from Cal North in our semi, so I would probably not get other results till later in the evening. We managed to get a great win 2-1 in overtime and our girls were awesome in that game. So through we go to the Tuesday final. After giving the girls about 30 minutes to go speak to the families after the game, which is the usual routine for all the teams; we boarded the vans and got back to the hotel to eat dinner and get the other results.
One by one the teams arrived, smiling faces meant only one thing, all the seven teams made the final game on Tuesday. What an amazing performance from our kids who represent 130,000 young soccer players in the Cal South system! Some soccer teams had close games, like we did, others more of an easier game. Still opponents are there to be beaten, and when you get to any semi final game, sometimes the best teams do not always win. My motto going into the game is always who wants it the most?
Tuesday morning, as we prepared to leave the hotel, all the kids were told to pack their belongings as we would travel home from the fields after the final game. The players with written documents are allowed to travel home with their parents. Almost all the players have family at the soccer fields, as this is a great weekend to come watch the kids play.
The soccer "FINALS" have come, the long weekend is over, my 95 girls had (6) games in (4) days. Is it a little much? Probably, but does it stop these kids? No way!
These soccer players are ready; they want it bad, they know and I know, we win this game and we have the opportunity to compete for a National Championship back here in March against the best of the rest.
|John Napier and Eric Lona with the GU 95 Regional Champions
We have our normal team meeting before the game, mostly to discuss the team line up and system of play, and anything that we know about our opposition. This is a big game, probably the biggest most of the girls have played in, and there are nerves, but we know we can do it!
We win 4-0 against Oregon. Not only am I amazed at the level of play they produced, but their level of fitness. We outran, out fought, and completely out played a very good Oregon team. Last year, we played the same team from Oregon but only won in PKs.
So these kids who Eric Lona (my assistant) and I took over two years ago, have won two Regional Championships and now go forward to the National Championships back here at the same soccer complex on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of March, 2011.
This has been a wonderful experience, I have experienced a lot of things in soccer, but the memories of being the coach of this group of players for the last two years will last forever.
I really mean this, it has been awesome.
Thank you girls, thank you Eric, and a big thank you to my manager Dawn Harris and to my keeper coach Ed Kephard.
The biggest applause should go to both Kathy and Steve Hoffman, without their passion and desire to help so many kids within the ODP (Olympic Development Program), none of this would be possible.
|John Napier and Eric Lona on stage with their GU 95 team at the Region IV Championships
Cal South teams won six championship trophies out of a possible eight. This was a great weekend of soccer. Great job everyone!
National Championship teams for the 95 girls will be: Cal South/New Jersey/North Carolina/Ohio South. Also the ODP G94 and the B94 will head back with us for the National Finals.
John Napier Girls 95 ODP Head Coach