Local youth soccer teams Wetumpka Hazards FC, Wetumpka Wolves and EC Impact entered last weekend’s Alabama State Games in Huntsville with different goals.
Wetumpka Hazards FC, an AYSO team from Elmore County, also participated in the event. After outscoring their opponents 6-2 during group play, the Hazards fell in the first round of the gold-medal bracket to wrap up their tournament.
Bill Lewis coached the Wolves, a U10 boys team, and he knew the challenges which awaited his young team.
“It really gave us a chance to see how other clubs did,” Lewis said. “Once we play these kids in their correct age group, we believe we’re going to be a lot more successful. I’m really encouraged by seeing how everyone played this week.”
The Wolves are just five months into their existence as a club and took just one squad to the 37th annual state games. In three matches, they were outscored 21-3 but Lewis said it was not hard to focus on the positives of the event.
“We’re lightyears ahead of where other local teams were when they started,” Lewis said. “We don’t feel like we have that far to go. The numbers are growing and their skills are developing so we’ve already seen a lot of progress.”
Lewis said there were still a handful of standout performances, most notably Joe Macon who led the Wolves in goals scored. The team played in the U10 boys red division but had a co-ed squad with players as young as 7 years old participating.
Prior to the games, the team got to walk in the opening ceremony event where more than 3,000 youth athletes from around the state were introduced by team. Lewis said the Wolves were the second soccer team introduced and the kids were clearly enjoying it.
“It was great giving them a chance to experience everything,” Lewis said. “All the kids loved it. They enjoyed the lights and all of the confetti. I was really glad with how the whole thing turned out.”
Meanwhile, coach Ken Sanders took his first youth girls team in his 10th year at the event and the EC Impact nearly came away with a medal. The team had girls ranging from ages 12 to 16 participate in the U17 girls division.
The Impact split their results in the group stage by winning, drawing and losing one match. They faced FC Montgomery in the bronze-medal match but fell just short, losing 1-0 after a goal in the final 10 minutes.
“For those girls, it’s not just about the experience of the event,” Sanders said. “It’s really about what they have learned and how they can take it back for their high school seasons. Taking those little things can make the difference between a win and a loss.”
The Impact’s roster had girls from around the county, including varsity starters from Holtville and Elmore County. Sanders said Holtville’s Madison Reeves and Elmore County’s Raney Jones were named as the team’s captains and had standout performances during the tournament in Huntsville.
“We’re really trying to get something established here,” Sanders said. “Most everyone has known each other for a while. We’ve built a soccer community over the last 10 or 12 years.”
While the results varied for all of the local teams, the coaches seem to agree the event provides plenty of opportunity for youth soccer players across the state. Lewis already said the Wolves will be going back with even more teams next season.
“We’ll definitely be going back to it,” Lewis said. “We already see we’re closing the gap. We want to come back with some medals next time.”