FC Alliance finishes with one finalist and two semifinalists
For the first time in East Tennessee history, a club has sent three teams to the Division 1 region semifinals. FC Alliance broke their own record of two when the 97 Girls, 98 Boys and 00 Girls all advanced from group play and quarterfinal games to the final four. The 98 Boys advanced all the way to the region finals- one game away from the national championships- before falling to FC Dallas of Texas.
It was a grueling week in Little Rock, Arkansas. With temperatures soaring well into the nineties and the humidity lingering around 50 percent, all three FC Alliance teams had to bring more than just skill: it took toughness and grit to survive and advance against a long list of national elite teams. Division 1 regionals consists of state champions and Premier League qualifiers. State finalists are admitted if their state's champion is a Premier League qualifier. For the 97 Girls, there were 12 teams in the tournament. The 00 Girls and 98 Boys competed against 16 teams each. The task is truly daunting. Every game is the equivalent of playing in a state championship game. Imagine winning three or even four state championship games in a week.
The 98 Boys became the club's second regional finalist by beating state champions from Georgia, North Carolina and Lousiana. Coach Jon Schneider's squad also knocked off Premier League champions Vestavia Hills of Alabama. Along the way, Damilola Omitaomu tied as the second leading scorer of the tournament with four goals. The perennial Tennessee state champions made their longest regional run ever, coming ever so close to punching a ticket to the national championships. The team's stumbling block was Texas powerhouse FC Dallas, a team with a serious shot at winning the national championship.
Meanwhile, the 97 Girls made another run at regionals. Previously, the team has earned region finalist honors. This version was a little different, however, as multiple players from last year have already left for college (Ashley Seltzer enrolled at Marshall in January, for example). It was more of a mix of U16 through U18 players, making the feat even that more impressive. Not that Coach Kevin Keck's squad lacked talent: 17 players are committed to play college soccer with the only two uncommitted players being high school juniors. The 97 Girls won their bracket by beating the North Carolina and Alabama state champions and drawing with Georgia's AFC Lightning. They lost their first game of the tournament in the semifinals, a crushing 4-3 defeat to longtime nemesis Lousiana Fire.
The 00 Girls made a huge statement in their first trip to Division 1 regionals. Coach Josh Gray and his team beat state champions from North Carolina and Texas (South), as well as recording a stunning 8-1 dismantling of the Georgia state finalists. In the semifinals, they lost a heartbreaker to Texas (North) state champion Solar FC. Allie Dunn was the tournament's second leading scorer with seven goals. Gwen Breslin added four and Lainee Bohanon had three.
"We are so proud of these kids," Gray said. "All three of our teams at regionals came ready to play. They gave their all and represented Tennessee well."