Murray, KY – Last summer, six western Kentucky girls placed second at a regional soccer tournament in Clarksville, narrowly losing to a Chicago team in overtime. Their performance there qualified them to participate in the world championships at Walt Disney World. Carrie Pond went to the girls' last practice in Murray before they head to Florida.
Brittany, Kayla, Channing, Janie, Ashlyn, and Allie, all 9 and 10 years old, call themselves the Futskilz "Revenge." They hail from Calloway, Graves and Marshall Counties and have been training for two years, in hopes of making it to the 3 on 3 (commonly known as 3 v. 3) soccer world Championships. Their hard work paid off in August, and the team soon heads to the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. There they will face the world's best 3 v. 3 teams in their age division. The girls met last weekend at Murray's Camp WOW to get a little more practice time in before leaving for the tournament.
"I tell the kids- it's soccer and Disney, it just doesn't get any better than that."
Heidi Mueller trains the "Revenge" and she's also director of Futskilz soccer, an individual training program for kids, ages 4 to 14.
"Even if they're playing with their local community team, it's something that's supplemental. It's great for the individual player's confidence because when they get on the soccer field they have more control and are able to do whatever they want with the soccer ball."
Mueller hosts camps and workshops all over the nation, but western Kentucky became the program's home base about 3 years ago. Mueller says the program focuses mainly on individual technical skills, but participants also compete in tournaments like the 3 v. 3 to better gauge their progress.
"3v3 is kind of the new craze across the country. High technical skills are required, it's a smaller field with smaller goals. But it's fantastic. It really works on every component of the game. It's action-packed, high-scoring- so the kids across the country have just been loving it."
This weekend the girls could play up to 10 games over three days. They'll begin playing in a pool of teams from across the nation, and the top three will advance to a single-elimination tournament. Despite the high pressure, Mueller's certain her team is tough enough to beat out the competition. The girls' team is the first in Futskilz history to enter a tournament with a national ranking. They head to Orlando ranked 16th in the country.
"Honestly some of the players on this team are the best in the nation. And it's really exciting to see, being that we come from a smaller population and demographic. They're going to be competing against teams from Atlanta and New York and Dallas, Texas. So, it's really quite an accomplishment that these girls have made. And they've got it-they're going to do it."
Despite Saturday's less than ideal weather- a light but constant rain makes the cool day seem even colder- these girls run through practice drills like a well-oiled machine, needing little correction from their coach. Mueller says this dedication is what has brought them success.
"They have worked so hard and committed to their personal training. On and off the field, they've dedicated themselves to staying in good shape, eating healthy, just doing everything it takes to be an elite athlete."
During a brief break, team members huddle together for warmth. Their shirts are black, with bright pink letters emblazoned with what has become the team motto- Blood, Sweat, Mouseketeers. Channing Foster of Murray says her whole team is looking forward to proving themselves against what will surely be stiff competition.
"Normally people don't think of players being really good from this part of Kentucky, so it's exciting. -So do you think you'll surprise everyone from the big cities?- Probably.
Allie Fiske of Calvert City says during games, Mueller gives the team a pep talk that will help them calm down during the high pressure game play at Disney.
"She just tells us at halftime usually, and it helps us out- if we're winning or losing, she says it's a new game and just start it back at zero-zero, and if we're winning or losing, it doesn't matter."
The girls are also, understandably, excited about the location of the tournament. Fiske and Janie Wiles, also of Calvert City, are glad the championships are at the theme park.
Allie: "I've never ever been to Disney in Florida. And so, it's just like I'm going to play soccer, but I'm getting to go to Disney, too." Janie: "I can't wait until I go because I've never rode on a rollercoaster before and I've never been to Disney either."
But Ashlyn Willet of Graves County says despite the exciting surroundings, the team will need to stay focused first and foremost on soccer.
We can't stay out at Disney too long, because we don't want to get hurt and stuff. So we'll just have to relax and maybe swim in the pool once or twice, but that's it."
Swimming and soccer in January, not too shabby.