The South Mississippi Soccer Club (SMSC) 2003/2004 Elite Girls team recently participated in the 2022 United States Youth Sports (USYS) National Championships in Orlando, FL. And while the outcome was not what they had hoped for, the team still made history as they were one of two first-ever female teams from Mississippi to qualify for a tournament at that level.
The USYS National Championships brings together the top U13-U19 teams from across the country. The SMSC U-19 girls punched their ticket to this tournament when they secured a top four placing in the National League PRO Tournament earlier this Spring.
Besides the SMSC team, the 2008 Brandon Futbol Club Girls Premier U-14 team from Brandon, MS, also made an appearance at this tournament.
Head Coach Chris Handy couldn’t have been prouder of his team.
“Five years ago we weren’t even playing at the level of the USYS. This team has grown together and individually in the past five years. This is a special group of girls and for them to have had this opportunity to compete and to show what they’re made of, win or lose, is what I’m most proud of,” Handy said.
While Coach Handy and the team would have liked to have ended the season with a National Championship title, what his team brought home was something just as meaningful, if not more so.
“What we took away from the experience is that it can be done. But it takes a lot of effort and work and it’s a process, and if you go through that effort and work and the process, then you’ll have a chance to play at the highest level. As a team, their appearance on youth soccer’s biggest field was special. And not only did they achieve that honor, but they achieved it together.”
Despite two losses and a tie, the team showed a level of fight that makes them all winners, and more importantly, showed them that they were meant to be there.
“The fact that we were one of the final 16 teams in our age bracket was a blessing and a major accomplishment. The girls played extremely well and there wasn’t any point where I felt like they didn’t try their best. They showed a tremendous amount of fight. We didn’t leave Orlando the way we wanted, but we did leave like we should have left. We left it all there and didn’t come home thinking we should have worked harder.”
What impresses Coach Handy the most about his team is that they never let failure ever set them back. He has no doubt that that attitude will take the girls far.
“They’ve always been able to come back stronger, more determined, more committed.”
Many of the players completed their youth careers in Orlando and some will go off to play soccer in college. For those players, and for those remaining on the team, they have truly set the bar for SMSC’s younger teams to aspire to.
Coach Handy is confident that their appearance this year is just the beginning.
“The path has been laid. This won’t be the last time that South Mississippi Soccer Club makes an appearance at the USYS Nationals.”
* Photo courtesy of South Mississippi Soccer Club