On April 25th, US Youth Soccer announced their invited roster for the West Region ODP ID Camp this July in Salt Lake City. The players invited to participate in the camp will be evaluated by the West Region coaching staff while competing for a spot on the West Interregional ODP Team for their age group. Among the players invited to the camp were Kai Golan (2005), Reagan Brisendine (2005), and Riley Byrd (2009). Golan and Brisendine are both sophomores in high school, and Byrd is a 7th grader.
Brisendine helped guide the Glacier Wolfpack to the 2020 Class AA State Championship and garnered unanimous All-State recognition as a sophomore this past Fall. Golan is a two-year starter for the Columbia Falls Wildcats and has been instrumental in leading the program to two consecutive Class A state Championship appearances. Byrd currently plays for the Flathead Rapids Columbia Falls U14 Girls program, and played for both the 2008 Flathead Valley United Girls team and the inaugural Columbia Falls Junior High Soccer Program this past Fall.
Damion Blackburn, Technical Director for the Flathead Rapids, Flathead Soccer Club, and Flathead Valley United, viewed the recognition of all three athletes as a step in the right direction for the valley’s growing soccer community.
“We need to advocate for these players and make sure that we open as many doors as possible and pathways for all of our players so that they can move forward through the game the way that they deem right for them, and that includes our top-level athletes like our players going to Regional Camp,” said Blackburn. “This pathway for all of our players is critical, and I think a lot of people are doing a lot of great work in the valley.”
Kai Golan (2005 Flathead Valley United, Columbia Falls High School)
For those involved in soccer in Columbia Falls, Kai Golan’s name has been on their radar for quite some time. Touted as one of the most talented players to come into the Columbia Falls High School soccer program in years, Golan has not disappointed.
While only a sophomore, Golan has already amassed an incredible 29 goals and 24 assists for the Wildcats. This past Fall, Golan earned Class A All-State recognition while leading the Wildcats in scoring and guiding the team to a second straight state championship appearance.
Though the Wildcats fell short to Whitefish in a thrilling 3-2 championship game this past Fall, Golan scored one of the goals of the year to tie the game with just over ten minutes remaining. Golan’s ability to consistently perform in high leverage situations is something that Columbia Falls High School Head Coach O’Brien Byrd believes will serve him well at the West Region ODP ID Camp.
“Kai has been in high-pressure situations, tournaments in Arizona, Nevada, Seattle, he’s been in finals, he’s taken game-winning penalty kicks in overtime,” said Byrd. “You can take a player with the athleticism and the technical ability, and if they don’t have experience in high-pressure situations, it will really impact them. Kai has the experience where he is not going to be rattled.”
After the high school season, Golan began preparing for the Spring season with the 03-05 FVU Boys Premier Team. Due to a back injury that impacted him throughout the past calendar year, he was forced to forego the season to recover.
With a drive to still be involved in the game, Golan took an assistant coaching position with Byrd’s Flathead Rapids Columbia Falls U-14 Boys team. Byrd lauded Golan’s leadership and believes that the newfound perspective on the game could ultimately be invaluable.
“You learn more than you ever thought you would when you start to take on the leadership role on the sideline, and it gives you a completely different perspective,” said Byrd. “I’m going to ask him to take a bigger leadership position with the team this Fall, when he comes back into the high school camp, and have a bigger role in how we play and set up as a system and a program, and I think that will continue to push him and allow for more development.”
Reagan Brisendine (2005 Flathead Valley United, Glacier High School)
When Reagan Brisendine joined the Glacier Wolfpack in the Fall of 2020, she joined a team with championship aspirations and a long list of decorated upper-classmen. Despite the stacked roster, Brisendine immediately impacted the team and helped the Wolfpack play their way to the school’s first-ever AA State Championship for either soccer program while garnering All-Conference accolades as only a freshman.
“Reagan came on to the scene with Glacier before I was there and was an impactful, All-Conference player as a true freshman starter in a heavy senior team,” said Glacier Head Coach Damion Blackburn. “The role she had with that team shows that she has the potential to look toward a future within the game.”
Within her high school environment, Brisendine proved ready to take her game to another level. As a sophomore, her 9 goals and 22 points led the Wolfpack as she anchored a young squad. Throughout her first two high school seasons and at the club level with Flathead Valley United, Brisendine has used her athletic superiority to overpower opponents; now she is working on rounding out her game with more tactical knowledge and technical development.
“Reagan’s family is huge on the athletic side, and what we have been working on with her is getting more of a tactical IQ first and foremost,” said Blackburn. “From her perspective, the growth from freshman year to sophomore year was phenomenal, and she was a unanimous All-State player, every coach in the state voted for her. Being the only player in that class to get a unanimous vote is another stepping stone for her.”
In being selected for the West Region ODP ID Camp, Brisendine will be able to face off against a new class of opponents. Playing with the Montana ODP Program, she has proven to be a consistent threat and is one of the leading goal scorers for the state team in her age group.
“Her invite to the Regional camp is well-deserved first and foremost,” said Blackburn. “Her age group is one of the deepest pools in Region IV, and I’m very excited for her and very interested to see how it goes. She is extremely coachable, and she has an insatiable drive to get better, and she has shown that.”
Riley Byrd (2009 Flathead Rapids, Columbia Falls Junior High School)
While the other two Flathead Valley invites to West Region ODP ID Camp have already made a name for themselves at the high school level, Columbia Falls Junior High School’s Riley Byrd is still in the beginning stages of her youth career. Byrd will enroll at Columbia Falls High School in the Fall of 2023 and will be looking to help the CFHS Girls program win its second-ever state championship.
“Obviously, soccer runs in her family with O’Brien being the head coach on the Boys side here in Columbia Falls and with Melanie serving as an assistant coach at the high school level and a head coach in the club environment,” said Columbia Falls Girls Soccer Coach Thomas Clark. “I think Riley has a chance to come into the high school environment and immediately contribute, and that is something that we are looking forward to as a coaching staff.”
In the meantime, Byrd will continue to prepare for the West Region ODP ID Camp as she finishes off her season with the Columbia Falls Flathead Rapids U14 Girls Team. Playing as both a central midfielder and a forward, Byrd has helped lead the team to a 9-1 record in league play and an impressive 10-3-1 record in all competitions.
This past Fall, Byrd played with Flathead Valley United and the Columbia Falls Junior High Program. Over the winter, she played with the 2009 Montana ODP Girls Team, where she proved to be one of the top players in her age group for the state. Byrd’s refusal to take her foot off the ball has paid significant dividends as she continues to hone her craft.
“Riley’s commitment to her personal development is super impressive and pretty rare for her age,” said Clark. “To see a kid play for two teams in the Fall, play for the state team in the Winter and immediately dive into the Spring club environment, it takes a ton of commitment and love for the game. But to see the massive improvements she’s made in the past year alone, it’s9 a testament to the fact that she is looking to constantly get better.”
As Byrd embarks on the next chapter of her soccer journey, Clark views playing with some of the top competition in the country as a great opportunity for her in her soccer career.
“For her to play alongside and against players of a different caliber at such a young age, it will be truly invaluable,” said Clark. “I think the fact that Riley can play in a number of different positions will give her a chance to go out there and compete, and most importantly she will be able to bring the knowledge she gets from her peers and the coaching staff back with her to the valley.”