The Chattanooga Football Club Academy under-14 girls set a goal to be playing in nationals when the soccer club season began in the spring.
This morning, they'll see what that feels like.
The Chattanoogans will get their first experience at the national level when they face West Coast FC United White in the US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup at 10 a.m. at the MESA Soccer Complex in Greenville, S.C.
The other two teams in the age group are Freedom from Huntington Valley, Pa., and PSC Orange out of Illinois. The clubs will play a round-robin schedule today, Friday and Saturday, and the consolation and championship matches will be played Sunday.
Coach Jason Kaset and assistant Hank Hopping have put together a team solely from the Chattanooga area. They mostly are girls who will be freshmen in high school, but there is one eighth-grader -- Madi Reap, who attends Baylor -- and two rising sophomores. According to Kaset, there are three players who attend East Hamilton, three from Baylor and one each from Girls Preparatory School, Boyd-Buchanan and Hixson. There also are a couple of players from Georgia and a couple who are home-schooled.
"You see a lot of the bigger clubs that do well in tournaments, and they are drawing players from 60-70 miles away. All of our players are within a 25-mile radius," Kaset said. "We've had this core for a couple of years now, and we've been able to add some really solid local players.
"Soccer is competitive in Tennessee, and there are some tough teams in this age group, but it was our goal to win state. Anything after that is a good experience for the players."
It wasn't until midway through the regionals that the CFC coaching staff realized the team had the potential to reach the players' goal of nationals.
"We had played five games in 48 hours and hadn't been scored on," Kaset said. "We had just really put it on a Louisiana team, and we beat a Florida team that we actually had to face again in the finals. It was impressive, knowing the competition there.
"People ask me if we played out of our minds, but we didn't. We just did the things we've worked on all year. That was an impressive-looking Florida team we played in the finals, but we outworked them."
The CFC Academy girls, who left town Wednesday morning, have had to reshape their goals moving forward. Now that they're there, Kaset's message to them is "to compete."
"We have no idea what we're going to run into once we get there," Kaset said. "I would like to play in the final match, but at the same time, if we get beat down in game one, I don't want our team to lose the effort battle, because that's one battle we can't lose.
"I think we'll compete. We know nothing about those teams, but I just want us to compete."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.