Claremont team shows united front, wins AYSO championship

A group of Claremont girls did the city proud when they returned as champions from the biennial AYSO National Games, held June 29 through July 7.

Claremont United swept the Girls Under 14 competition, 8-0, vying against 24 teams from 19 different states at Field of Dreams in San Pedro. It was no easy feat, according to assistant coach Adam Olesniewicz.

“The games were pretty feisty. It was feisty the whole time,” he said.

The teens played two games per day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, for five days in a row. The contests lasted anywhere from 50 to 70 minutes in temperatures that, despite the proximity to the ocean, rose to 90 degrees.

“It took a lot out of them,” Coach Bob Knudsen said.

Luckily, the girls, many of whom also play club soccer, were in top condition.

“We had a whole season of playing very competitive tournaments to prepare us for this,” Coach Knudsen said.

The 13- and 14-year-olds were also buoyed by the energy of youth, and so they found time for some fun when they were off the field. There was a concurrent event that had the girls almost as excited as the AYSO National Games. The Claremont United contingent gathered between matches at a local sports bar to watch the back-and-forth progress of the World Cup.

“The girls were wearing their uniforms and rooting for the US team,” Mr.

Olesniewicz said.

The biggest treat was getting to mingle with other players, handing out metal Claremont United pins in exchange for pins from players from across the country. With participants hailing from locations as far-flung as Florida, Iowa, Tennessee, Hawaii and even Trinidad and Tobago, it was a nifty game to try to collect as many different pins as possible.

The Claremont team’s pins came courtesy of a $1,000 donation from Claremont Sunrise Rotary. Additional sponsors included Round Table Pizza, Red Hills Gas in Upland, the Law Offices of Robert Knudson and the Law Offices of Mike O¹Brien, Rancho Cucamonga State Farm agent Mike Gaumer and Geoff Hamill of Wheeler Steffen International Reality, among others.

Kimberly Taylor, whose daughter Genna Rogers is one of the 15 girls who competed in the National Games, served as a chaperone at the event, at one point hosting a group of five players in her hotel room.

“They’re a good group of girls, but they were loud,” Ms. Taylor laughed. “Luckily we had a suite so I was able to shut the door and try to sleep.”

Close, competitive matches

Going into the games, the girls had no idea they would be so successful. They felt lucky to even participate since Claremont, known as Region 3 in AYSO speak, had been selected via random lottery from among 1,000 AYSO regions.

California is a state that loves its soccer, so it’s not surprising the final four teams heading into the semi-finals were all from the Golden State.

“Our girls are very talented. So was every other team we went up against,” Coach Knudsen said. “But as they got closer, they begin to say, ‘We can do this.’ They played their hearts out every game’”

They were cheered on by a growing contingent of friends and family, in games that were breathtakingly close.

In the quarterfinal, played against a team from San Pedro, the girls spent most of the game on top, 2-0. Then, in the fourth quarter, the opposition scored two goals, ending the game in a 2-2 tie. The game was determined via penalty kicks, with Claremont United prevailing 5-4.

The neck-and-neck nature of the games continued in the semi-final when the girls beat Manhattan Beach 3-0, with all goals scored late in the game.

And in the championship game against Lake Forest, Claremont United got a late call, giving the team a chance to pull ahead with a penalty kick. Alexis Olesniewicz kept her cool and was able to hit it into the right corner to give the team the lead. Final score was 1-0.

The girls were beside themselves with excitement, with a celebration that included dumping water on their coaches. The coaches took the dunking good-naturedly.

“They were so good—no one player stood out,” Coach Knudsen said. “It was a complete team effort.”

Claremont United player Michelle Szlauko agreed.

“We just acted more like a family than any of the other teams did,” she said.

The girls’ victory was saluted Monday evening at the weekly summer concert in Memorial Park concert. Just before the Ravelers took the stage, the championship win was announced. Each player’s name was called and the teens lined up in front of the bandshell for some much deserved applause.

Members of the star soccer team are as follows: Kaylin Anderson, Abby Chaput, Lexi Deahl, Bridget Engelbert, Alyssa Hermelin, Katie Knudsen, Sarah Liu, Alexis Olesniewicz, Samantha Palafox, Sarah Reagan, Genna Rogers, Genesis Ruiz, Michelle Szlauko, Hana Treat and Danielle Vafa.

The girls all have something in common along with shared credit for the championship: enthusiasm.

“My favorite sport is winning,” joked Katie, who has been playing soccer since she was 4. “I just love soccer.”

Michelle, 14, who just graduated from Mt. Baldy School, is a relative newbie, having only played soccer since she was 13. She’s already hooked, and hopes to try out for the Claremont High School team. 

How has she kept up with girls who have played soccer since before they could tie their own shoes?

“I’ve played many other sports, like track and field, volleyball and football,” she said. “I just ran fast and hoped that would take me places, and it did.”

After the team’s recent accomplishment, a proud coach—not to mention a proud dad—can’t be blamed for bragging a bit.

“We’re an awesome team. These are some tough girls. We¹re as good as any boys out there,” Coach Olesniewicz said.

—Sarah Torribio


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