Fingernails are in short supply around the players, coaches, and families of the GU13 FC Salmon Creek Nemesis. Their five-game run through the National Championship at the NPL Finals saw them win 4 of their 5 games by slim, one-goal margins before finally, triumphantly hoisting that trophy. Adjusting to the heat and humidity throughout the tournament in North Carolina wasn't easy for the Nemesis, but they managed to put together some of their finest performances of the year against top competition from around the country.
"I am very proud of how my team stepped up and adjusted to the different style of play that was presented," said Salmon Creek coach Tina Ellertson. "Their mental toughness and belief in each other was amazing."
Salmon Creek's draw had them matched up against nationally-renowned Match Fit Academy from New Jersey on day one of the competition. A pitched, back-and-forth battle, Salmon Creek and Match Fit traded goals over the 70 minute game, with Nemesis finishing on top at the final whistle, 4-3. Maddie Goss delivered in a big way for her team, with two goals for the Nemesis scoring effort, including the game-winner, while Brin Wolvert and Ava Benedetti scored the other two.
NEFC, based in Massachusetts were the day two foe for Salmon Creek, but the Nemesis were up to the task earning a 1-0 win. Again it was Goss playing the hero, connecting with a Savanna Harshbarger corner for the goal's only game. Nemesis also got a big game from goalkeeper Hallie Byzewski who kept NEFC off the scoring sheet for the shutout.
With 6-points and sitting at the top of their group, Nemesis had a little breathing room for their third game of group play; while there were multiple scenarios for advancement for the whole group, a tie was all they needed to assure their advancement to the semifinals. Playing the Mississippi Rush, who desparately needed a win to force tiebreakers for advancement, the Salmon Creek players were stellar on defence, stifling the attack from the Rush, ultimately drawing 1-1. Bella Serrano made a run out of the back and played a give and go with Bendetti before burying the ball in the back of the net for Salmon Creek.
Ellertson didn't have long to prep her team for the next day's semis, so rest and recovery were key for Salmon Creek before they took on the Michigan Hawks the next day. "It's a great challenge for the girls," Ellertson remarked after the tournament. "It's always great to get your team out of the area competing against teams they have never seen."
After dispatching teams from New Jersey, Massachussets, and Mississippi, the Michigan Hawks were the next team between Salmon Creek and the National Championship. It would again take another outstanding performance from Byzewski in goal for the Nemesis to push them to the final. She came up huge time and time again, earning her second shutout of the tournament. On the offensive end, it was Goss finding the goal again for Salmon Creek, her team-leading fourth goal of the tournament and second gamewinner, winning 1-0.
"The atmosphere around the tournament was excellent," said Ellertson. "It was very well run, with great competition and great facitlities. With the quality of teams we played, we were thrilled to be in the final"
Salmon Creek would match up again with a team they dispatched in group play, the NEFC Elite. It wouldn't be easy this time around, as NEFC were ready for the team that had beaten them 1-0 a few days' earlier. After four days of playing on the humid fields of North Carolina, it would take an outstanding team effort from back to front. Nemesis earned their first goal when Mackenzie Ellertson connected with a Harshbarger free kick and the trophy was within reach. Nemesis would need one more goal to see off NEFC and it would be Ava Benedetti who delivered the gamewinner for her club. Byzewski was called upon several times in the last ten minutes to make huge saves in goal to keep the 2-1 scoreline. When the final whistle blew, the girls from Salmon Creek could definitively say they had earned their trophy and the National Championship medals they could now proudly wear around their neck.
Ellertson high hopes for her team over the coming year. "I hope this tournament gives them the confidence to continue to push themselves collectively and individually," she said. With a strong core of players, the team is primed to make another run through the OPL NPL this year to earn a shot to defend their national championship next year. "I am excited to see them grow over this year and I am super proud of each and every player."