Jefferson Cup: A long way from icy home for Wisconsin’s Strike FC Premier U-18s
RICHMOND, Va. – Strike FC sits a bit removed from youth soccer hotbeds like Virginia, Florida, Texas and California. But they also know how to play the world’s most popular sport in America’s Dairyland.
Ranked No. 2 in Wisconsin and the reigning State Cup champs, Strike FC Premier Under-18s have joined teams from all over the United States (and beyond) who’ve descended on Richmond for the Jefferson Cup, traveling great distances to partake in some of the top showcase competition on offer.
Strike FC began three years ago as three different clubs in the Lake Country region merged. There are about 1,800 kids in the club, ages 5 to 18. Some kids travel 50 to 60 miles to play for the club’s elite-level teams.
It’s also a long, difficult road to Jeff Cup, and due mainly to finances, only 13 girls could make the trip.
“There are some very good players and some very good teams, there just aren’t as many of them,” U-18s coach and club technical director Rob Lestina said. “We don’t have the population. Most of the really good soccer is in Milwaukee. In Madison there is some good soccer. But it’s Wisconsin, a lot of country, farmland.”
This is the first trip Lestina has made with his team to the Jeff Cup. They’ve taken part in past editions of the WAGS Rael Vodicka Memorial Tournament in Northern Virginia and have been to Raleigh for the CASL Showcase, but they wanted to experience this event before their youth careers come to an end.
“We knew the top-level competition would be down here. We were fortunate to win State Cup this past fall, and we will be attending regionals,” said Lestina.
“We were looking around at tournaments. We’ve done Vegas, which is this weekend. We did that last year. That’s a good event. But we are playing some really good teams here.”
Lestina praised the tournament’s staffers, especially their communication in regards to the week’s weather concerns. And while precipitation was a concern, there were greater ones for this team. Due to their frigid Midwestern climate, the girls haven’t played outside in months.
Players like talented midfielder Sabrina DuPaix have had to work on their skills on futsal courts, as they haven’t practiced or played a game outside since November.
Forecasts call for temperatures below freezing in Wisconsin on Saturday, while in Richmond, it will be pushing 70 degrees under the long-awaited spring sunshine. After a 1-0 loss to PSC Baltimore on Saturday, the girls are slowing getting back into a rhythm. Now, rain or shine, they just want to keep ramping up their sharpness ahead of their final spring together.
“Two and a half weeks ago, it was seven degrees in Wisconsin, so it’s a welcome change,” Lestina said.