The Savannah United Premier 02 U16 soccer team is headed to Greensboro, North Carolina to compete in the US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Championships this week.
The team qualified for the tournament Memorial Day weekend after defeating their arch rival AFC Lightning for the Georgia State Cup. Savannah United is also the first team outside Atlanta to win the prestigious title.
“It was kind of crazy,” said Megan Zeldenrust. “I honestly went into the game thinking it was going to be a really hard battle. We scored right off the bat. When the game ended it was an amazing feeling because it was against the team we struggled against.”
After waiting through an 80-minute rain delay, Savannah United preserved the win despite allowing a goal late in the second half. The victory is still a bit surreal for a team that went in as the underdog.
“It’s crazy,” said Zeldenrust. “I didn’t expect it. It was a surprise to me. We were seeded fifth and we went in as an outsider.”
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“We kind of started at the bottom and then we beat a bunch of teams,” said Isabela Rivera. “It’s unreal. This year, we won the State Cup and last year we didn’t do good at all.”
Now the squad is gearing up for its biggest challenge yet, but there is a ton of enthusiasm surrounding the young group of girls who simply want to make a name for themselves and bring recognition to the Lowcountry.
“It would be crazy to think about us winning the entire thing,” said Zeldenrust. “Just winning the state cup down here in Savannah is amazing.”
Since the win head coach Gary Wright said he’s noticed a different level of poise and believes his team will carry their new-found confidence into regionals.
“I’ve certainly seen, over the last two weeks, a lot of confidence in the players,” said Wright. “Their demeanor has always been confident over the last couple years but [after] winning the state cup, they are like different people. But we have also given them no expectations, so they are very relaxed. Yes, we are going in quite confident to get out of your group at least, and then once that happens, who knows? It becomes a knock out stage. Anyone can win.”
The Georgia State Cup winners will compete in a system much like the world cup where three points are earned for wins, one point for a tie and no points will be given for a loss. The top two teams from each group will move on to the finals.
Although the road to regionals was no easy task, the squad is ready to showcase their talent in Greenville.
“I am excited,” said Zeldenrust. “With every games comes a little bit of nervousness. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a game not nervous - that’s a natural thing. I am excited to see how we compete against other teams in our region. I’m still nervous because it’s a big deal.”
Should they advance out of their group, Savannah United will play in the quarterfinals on Monday.
“I am excited to play at this level and to have a chance to be up there and experience this whether we get the title or not,” said Rivera. “I can’t even imagine how I would feel [if we won].”