The most successful female youth players in the history of Wisconsin soccer finished their 2013 season as the ECNL U23 National Finalists - finishing a 4-year run that included 1 national championship, 1 national finalist, and another national final four appearance.
After finishing group play 3-0 at the inaugural ECNL U23 National Championships, the FC Wisconsin Eclipse U23 ECNL team finished as the 2013 ECNL U23 National Finalist after a tough loss to Eclipse Select in the national championship. It was the 3rd match-up between the teams over the past 8 weeks, as both advanced out of group play at the national championships - showing the fantastic depth and quality of these age groups in the Midwest.
Held in Richmond, VA, from July 11-14, the U23 ECNL National Championships featured 6 qualifying teams from across the country. In group play, FC Wisconsin Eclipse met FC Virginia on day one, coming away with a 2-0 win off of goals from Cara Walls (University of Wisconsin) and Mady Vicker (Marquette University). In a sign of both the quality of the soccer the team played, as well as what would eventually be their Achille’s heel throughout the event, FC Wisconsin Eclipse couldn’t quite find the third goal to "knock-out" the opponent, despite many opportunities to do so and potentially save energy and legs for upcoming cames.
Day two saw a difficult match-up against McLean SA, and a come from behind 2-1 win by FC Wisconsin Eclipse. Despite many chances to take the lead, FC Wisconsin Eclipse fell behind 1-0 on a break-away counter-attack on McLean’s first real chance on goal in the 20th minute. The second half saw significantly increased pressure on the McLean defense, but it wasn’t until approximately the 80th minute that Ashley Stemmeler (Marquette University) found the equalizer. The goal provided a spark for a stoppage time winner from Mady Vicker, and a deserved win. Though the character displayed by the team to come from behind was tremendous, once again the team needed 90 hard-fought minutes to get 3 points - in the 80 degree heat, the minutes were adding up.
The final group day saw FC Wisconsin Eclipse matched up against a tremendously talented FC Dallas team, featuring current college stars from throughout Texas and the Big 12. A win or tie would put Wisconsin through to the final, while an FC Dallas win would see them qualify. Once again, it was Cara Walls that opened the scoring on a set-piece rebound in only the second minute. Throughout the first half FC Wisconsin Eclipse put huge pressure on FC Dallas, which increased even more when FC Dallas had a player ejected for violent conduct in the 30th minute. Though continuing to create quality chances in the second half, FC Wisconsin Eclipse could not find the second goal to put the game away. An 89th minute equalizer from FC Dallas made the last few minutes exciting, before Cara Walls finished the second in the 93rd minute off a great set piece assist from Brittany Von Reuden (University of Notre Dame).
The championship match featured the top 2 teams in the country, and teams that were closely matched all season. In previous conference match-ups, Eclipse and FC Wisconsin Eclipse had played to a 1-1 tie, and a close 1-0 win for Eclipse in late June. The sister clubs would fight a third time for the honor of the first ever ECNL U23 National Championship on a sweltering day in Midlothian, VA.
Led by an incredibly dynamic midfield of Morgan Brian (2013 U20 World Cup Winner and University of Virginia) and Vanessa DiBernardo (2013 U20 World Cup Winner and University of Illinois), and former Chicago Red Stars Mo Smunt and Hannah Gilmore, the Eclipse Select were too much for FC Wisconsin on the day. Going into the second half down 0-1 on a goal from Brian in the 30th minute, an Eclipse penalty kick by DiBernardo early in the second half doomed the Wisconsin team. Though they fought back to make the game 3-1 in the 75th minute, a stoppage time counter-attack goal from Eclipse made the final 4-1.
"We are incredibly proud of this team, and the performances the players have shown both this season, and over the past several years," said coach Christian Lavers. "Many of these players have played in 3 national championships over the past 4 years - the WPSL Final Four in 2010, the USYS U18 National Championships in 2011 (champions), and now the ECNL U23 National Championships in 2013. Without a doubt, and by any objective measure, these are the most successful female soccer players in the history of Wisconsin soccer, and we are proud to have them as members and representatives of our club."
The U23 team also included 4 youth players in Richmond - rising U17s Steph Fabry, Chloe Knudtson, and Allison Jacobson, as well as rising college freshman Allegra Godfrey (Valparaiso University). The team was captained by rising Marquette senior Katie Hishmeh.
"This team shows the essence of FC Wisconsin Eclipse," said Lavers. "They are selfless, work incredibly hard for each other, and play fanatastic team soccer. The common club background and consistent training philosophy throughout all ages in the club allowed players as young as 16 to successfully compete and play with rising college seniors against some of the best U20 and U23 players in the country. These players are a testament to what Wisconsin can achieve when aspiring players are in the right development and competitive environment for several years."
The complete FC Wisconsin Eclipse U23 National Finalist roster is below. All players played for FC Wisconsin Eclipse coaches under the club’s training philosophy since at least U16:
* = 2011 USYS U18 National Champion
^ = 2010 WPSL National Final Four Participant