The team that plays together, stays together.
A handful of the girls on St. Cloud Soccer Club’s Under-19 team have been together for over a decade. They’ve practiced and played at Stephanie Rothstein Park and gone all over the state in search of the best tournaments and opponents to play.
All that work has paid off, as the club team has qualified for the U.S. Soccer Regional Championship, held in Baton Rouge, La., June 20-27.
It’s a long way to go, the better part of a 12-hour drive. And, literally and figuratively, it’s farther than this team has ever gone.
The team earned its place among the club ranks champions in the 11 states that make up the South Region by romping through last month’s Florida State Cup with only one loss, earning a wild card bid by finishing third in the statewide event.
Here’s the accomplishment: the teams with them at the top of the table come from large-market areas or clubs pulling from multiple communities: Sunrise, the Gulf Coast, Tampa. St. Cloud is the ultimate small-market team playing big.
“They said they had over 100 girls try out for this one competitive team,” said club president Kevin Archibald, whose daughter, Hannah, has been one of those SCSC ‘lifers.’ “We had 19 girls and took them all with us. A couple years ago because of injuries we were actually playing with nine kids at one point.”
In its age group, SCSC’s Under-19s are currently ranked No. 4 in the state of Florida and No. 8 in the region by Got Soccer. The team is made up of girls from five area high school programs: St. Cloud, Gateway, Harmony, Osceola and one from Cypress Creek, the only one of the 19 not from Osceola County.
It makes for a fun couple of weeks when the high school season starts in November, and when the club season starts in the spring; teammates becoming adversaries and then teammates again.
“Yeah, it always takes adjusting to, especially if one team knocked another team out of the playoffs,” said SCSC Coach Scott Marlega, who also coaches Harmony High, who beat some county teams on its way to another district title. “But these girls have all grown up together, playing together, and it’s a great group. Let’s face it, this is an all-star team of Osceola County’s talent.
This has been Marlega’s second season as the team’s coach and third year with the club after taking over from Simon Collins.
“Our philosophy and formations haven’t changed from that staff,” he said. “I’m just a different personality.”
Autumn Horn, who plays in the winter for Harmony and the rest of the year for St. Cloud Soccer, said the other club teams around the state they play are “the biggest games we play.
“This is how you prove yourselves — to your self, your teammates and for the college level,” she said.
Hannah Archibald, a Bulldog in the winter, said what the team has accomplished at the Florida State Cup, and what it hopes to pull off in Baton Rouge, is “a big deal to put St. Cloud on the map.
“We’ve worked so hard for this, trained so long,” she said. “We’ve built a unity and have each others backs.”
Said Kevin Archibald: “When this group plays together with the same purpose, we like our chances against anyone in the state.”
Added Marlega: “Our Under-17 team girls are watching this and want a piece of this, too, when they get to that level. It’s a good model for us to have at the top.
Jenna Butcofski, a Harmony student, said the team is often overlooked at state-level competitions — and she and the team kind of like it.
“We’re a small team so we should be easy to beat, right?” she said. “But we play as a team and stay composed, and that team effort is what college coaches are looking for.”
Everyone you ask connected to SCSC says the club “hasn’t been anywhere close” to the regional bid it earned — and now they work on paying their way to get there, and it will happen, said SCSC Competitive Director Janice Lavigne.
“The excitement level around this is absolutely huge since it’s something that’s never been done here,” she said. “As parents you find ways to make it happen.”
If the community would like to get involved, the club has set up a GoFundMe page to help defray the costs of the Baton Rouge trip:
The entire roster includes Butcofski, Archibald, Horn, Alyha Velazquez and Saralez Mejia from Gateway; Angie Santos, Sam Blanchard, Samantha Hizer, McKenzie Eaddy, Myla Noyce, Mackenzie Kish and Reinna Scott from Harmony; Maritza Cornejo and Yasmine Alli from Osceola; and Dalaney Hanneken, Ilyana Clark, Nikki Longmoore and Aniesha Neff from St. Cloud.
The club has recreation and travel soccer programs for boys and girls ages 6-19. Visit www.stcloudsoccer.org to learn more about the club and teams.
The U-19 Girls team will compete in the Florida Premier League and GCF next year.