This past weekend, more than ten teams from Flathead Soccer Club, Montana Flathead Rapids and Flathead Valley United flocked to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho for the annual Bill Eisenwinter HotShot Soccer Tournament. The tournament proved to be a huge success for many of the Flathead based teams, with three of our Flathead soccer teams finishing in the top two spots in their respective age group.
Coach Constantino Aleman-Chaves and the Flathead Soccer Club 2012 Academy Girls team won three games on the weekend before falling to FC Missoula in a tightly contested championship game. While Coach John Lacey and the 2003 Flathead Valley United Girls won the U18 group in undefeated fashion, beating the Coeur D’Alene Thorns 1-0 in a riveting championship game.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with both Coach Aleman-Chaves and Coach Lacey as I looked to highlight the tournament performances of the two aforementioned teams. Both Coaches spoke on the importance of overcoming adversity, staying committed to playing their brand of soccer, and continuing to develop a strong sense of camaraderie amongst their coaching staff and players.
When Emma Barron nailed a set piece from roughly 25 yards out late last Sunday afternoon, the Coeur D’Alene Thorns became Barron’s latest addition to a long list of teams she has scored on off free kicks, and the FVU girls finished off a tumultuous weekend with a Championship victory. Barron, who will be joining Carroll College’s soccer program this coming Fall, battled an injury all weekend but stepped up when the stakes were highest. The girls as a whole battled numerous lightning delays, a controversial red card in the first game of the tournament, and the absences of both their starting goalkeepers, yet through all of that came out on top.
“There were a couple bits of adversity that came right out of the gate, less experienced players would have probably found ways to be distracted and not do their best,” said Coach John Lacey. “These girls have played enough soccer that they were able to buckle down, have fun, play good soccer and do enough individually to hold down.”
Coach Lacey lauded individual performances from Barron, Reagan Brisendine (who scored a hat trick in the team’s first game of the tournament), and young goalkeeper Erica Burguiere. Burguiere stepped up an age group in order to play with the 2003 girls, joining experienced seniors as a far less experienced freshman. Rather than doubting Burguiere, the team rallied behind her and she and the back line conceded only 2 goals on the weekend, while finishing with two shutouts.
“Working for her (Erica) and lifting her up was a predominant part of our mentality, and everybody’s defensive effort was sensitive to that,” said Lacey. “Erica had a huge role to play this weekend, she pitched two shutouts and that doesn’t happen without a keeper.”
Lacey was sure to mention the impact that Flathead Valley United Alum Sami Galbraith, who is currently a goalkeeper at North Idaho College, had on Burguiere. Galbraith joined the team on the bench for three of their four games, warmed Burguiere up and helped her mentally adjust to the higher level of play. Galbraith assisting the team, served as another reminder for Lacey, who has coached this team for years, of just how special this group of girls really is.
“I’ve said this for a longtime but I get a really privileged seat from the cooler, you get to watch these kids and it is some really great soccer, just really fantastic,” said Lacey. “These kids are just awesome awesome people, and I’ve seen all of the stuff behind the scenes before the matchups and you just want to cheer for them.”
For Coach Constantino Aleman-Chaves, coaching has never been about winning. This past weekend, the 2012 FSC Academy Girls played the way Coach Aleman-Chaves expects them to: with autonomy and unity. The byproduct was a wildly successful tournament display including two wins over Montana Surf and a 5-0 win over Hells Canyon FC.
“My goal with these kids has always been to help them become independent thinkers on the field,” said Coach Aleman-Chaves. “I’ve seen other coaches in the past yelling non-stop throughout the whole game, I’m quiet and I let them play and be creative, and I try to emphasize to them that as long as we have the ball, the other team can't score.”
The attitude of attempting to play a brand that they can continue to develop into has begun to pay significant dividends as the team finished with an 11 to 4 goal differential in the four games they competed in over the weekend. Coaching an age group in which technical differences and tactical understanding can be significant from player to player, Aleman-Chaves has been most impressed with the way his more experienced players have seamlessly found roles of support for the other players.
“Something that I love about this team is the fact that the oldest players are always helping the younger ones, and we are always working as a team,” said Aleman-Chaves.
When speaking with Aleman-Chaves he was adamant in stating that his number one goal with his group has been building a strong culture and trying to turn the group into less of a team and more of a family. While the girls may have lost in the final against Missoula FC, the group stayed together and continued to grow throughout the adversity.
“As a coach, you have to understand the age that you are coaching and I try to incentivize the team to build friendships,” said Aleman-Chaves. “We all help each other, we don’t criticize, we all make mistakes. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you can play really great and still lose, and that is something that I hope they take away from the tournament.”