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Youth Girls Oct 06, 2012

WAGS Tournament: Gilbert Arsenal 95 Premier Teal of Arizona studying up on college options

By Jimmy LaRoue

Not wanting to miss taking their SAT’s Saturday, but also not wanting to miss the opportunity to travel more than 2,200 miles from Arizona to the Washington, D.C. area to play in the 37th Annual WAGS Rael Vodicka Memorial Tournament, several of Gilbert Arsenal 95 Premier Teal’s managed to do both.

Knowing that T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria was an SAT testing site, but also more known by younger generations as the school featured in the based-on-a-true-story movie, Remember the Titans, they took the test Saturday morning after arriving to the D.C.-area late the night before.

“They’re all bragging about it,” said Gilbert coach Matt Smith of the trip to T.C. Williams to take the test. “‘Hey, look, I’m going somewhere famous to take mine instead of the high school down the street.”

It’s been four years since Smith has brought a club to the WAGS tourney, but having lived in upstate New York and a few years in his youth in the D.C.-metro area has made him a lifelong Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles fan.

More importantly, many of the same players who took their SAT’s at T.C. Williams are looking at East Coast colleges, and the WAGS showcase, in its new partnership with the NSCAA and Elite Tournaments, puts the Arizona team in front of scouts who would otherwise not be exposed to the southwestern club’s players.

“I think it’s neat for them just to come and see different things,” Smith said after his team’s 2-0 loss in the opening game of the Under-19 Showcase bracket to Massapequa SC Elite on the George Mason University campus. “Arizona’s kind of its own entity. It’s very warm, very dry, but it’s neat for them to see it’s a totally different landscape, to see things that are so much older than anything we see historically.”

Talking about the action on the field, Smith said his team plays a South American-style that is much different that what he sees from many of the East Coast-based teams.

“It’s not as much shoulder-to-shoulder, body-on-body,” Smith said of the way his team plays, “because the reality is that in Arizona, if somebody hits the ground, it’s the ground that it hurts, so it takes a little time to adjust to the fact that the play is going to be a little bit more body-on-body allowed. That took us a little while to adjust to, but we did a pretty good job with it in the second half.”

Gilbert was stout defensively, as the match was scoreless until Massapequa closed out the match with two goals in the last seven minutes. That strong defensive effort was led by U-17 center back Alyssa Lamb and goalkeeper Tiana Pretzer. Though Pretzer stands just 5-feet-2 inches tall, Smith she plays much bigger than that in goal.

“We had a chance,” Smith said. “That’s what you ask for.”

The team he has is a blend of two teams at Gilbert SC, both of which Smith coaches. Half of the blend stayed behind in Arizona to play in the club’s tournament. The other half came east. The two teams generally play a counterattacking style with three strikers, but he hopes the girls will play cleaner than they did Saturday. He said they look to defend first, then look to counterattack.

Another reason for coming east is playing in different conditions. While Arizona is predictably hot and dry, it’s been less so in the D.C. suburbs.

“Honestly, we’re not used to wind, we’re not used to weather conditions,” Smith said. “Other than being 110 degrees, everything’s kind of flat.”

There’s one other thing Smith’s players are looking forward to experiencing while out east.

Rain.

“We’re not sure what that stuff is,” Smith joked. “We don’t know what to do with it. Some of our kids might put their mouths in the air and drown. Literally, rain for us is, bam, it’s in, it’s out, and it’s monsoon season for about a month every afternoon in July and that’s about it.

But it’ll be about 50 degrees colder.

Looking on the  bright side, Smith said that playing in a cold rain would help with at least one of his players, attacking midfielder Kelsey Cartwright, who has committed to play at the  University of North Dakota.

“If she can’t handle this, she should probably rethink [North Dakota] a little bit,” Smith said, laughing.

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