The Chattanooga Football Club U-14 girls team entered into the land of the unknown upon reaching the US Youth National Presidents' Cup tournament.
They left with a lot of knowledge - and a lot of people knowing who they were as well.
The Chattanooga club finished second in the event, falling to California-based West Coast FC United White 4-2 in the championship match at the MESA Soccer Complex in Greenville, S.C.
The club finished 2-0-1 in group play, tying the eventual champions 1-all in the first match Thursday, before defeating PSC Orange 2-1 and Huntingdon Valley 4-0 to advance to the championship match. CFC took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Avery Engles in the 15th minute, but West Coast took control of the match on goals by Natalie Crago in the 18th and 22nd minutes, followed by goals by Reid Morrison in the 25th minute and Kaylin Martin in the 41st.
Hope Sanders scored her fourth goal of the tournament in the 42nd minute - tying teammate Lainee Bohannon for top scoring honors.
The club featured team members from Baylor, Boyd-Buchanan, East Hamilton, GPS, Grace Academy, Hixson and Ooltewah; a couple members from Georgia and a couple that were home-schooled.
"We just didn't match up well athletically against the team from California," head coach Jason Kaset said. "They had a couple of six-footers on the team, and they just played over our heads. They were definitely a quality team.
"I did like that after tying that team the first time we played, we just played better and better each match leading up to the championship."
After the first match, the team experienced a special moment when team member Lili Oren's dad, Les - a US Army captain - flew in for the team's first match and surprised his daughter by putting his hand on her shoulder in a team picture.
"I had no idea who it was," Lili told GreenvilleOnline.com. "I was honestly kind of freaking out. I had no idea. Then I turned around. I just got so happy, I didn't even think. I just turned around and realized it was my dad."
Kaset mentioned that thousands of teams fight for a chance to play in nationals, so to have a chance to play for a national championship was an "amazing end to the season."
"We'll look back and realize it was a really good experience," he said.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.