LAKE WYLIE — A controversial call last year stopped local soccer stars painfully short of a national championship. There isn’t any controversy this year.
A team of Lake Wylie, Clover and Fort Mill players returned home last week as undefeated, unquestioned national champions following the Kick It 3v3 World Championships in Kissimmee, Fla. The squad of 6- and 7-year-olds finished the year with more than 50 wins and 350 goals, including a 7-0 sweep of competition at an invitation only, elite level final.
“The team played incredibly well all weekend to cap off an incredible year,” said coach Todd Sykes.
The elite competition required teams to finish in the top three at the previous year’s nationals, win a regional or amass an overwhelming winning record. Inter Catawba Futbol Club Blue, now part of Palmetto United Futbol Club, did all three. The team finished third at last year’s nationals, losing a semifinal on what parents and coaches called a questionable late goal that wasn’t allowed, but should have been.
The team went into this year’s championship with a top ranking, winning three games by a combined 33-6 heading into the knockout round.
Blue found itself tied with five minutes remaining in the semifinal, and trailed 3-1 in the final before edging out a 6-5 win. Blue was one of four teams to enter the tournament undefeated, but the lone one to leave it that way.
“What an experience!” said Sam Thurman, 6.
Matt Young of Fort Mill, dad of team member Andy, also left impressed.
“We weren’t the biggest, strongest or fastest, but we have excellent team chemistry,” he said. “We were the most prepared, have the best skills and have the biggest hearts of any team out there.”
Other teams drew from larger player bases, and often were all-star teams playing together.
Local players trained at least three days a week together, Sykes said.
“As a coach I could not be prouder to see their laughs and smiles when that whistle blew,” he said.
“As a dad, it was a moment to remember when I hugged my sons, and they had those huge smiles on their faces.”
Team members are Savannah Hansen, Cory Lownds, Landon and Sam Sykes, Sam Thurman and Andy Young. Coaches are Todd Sykes and David Lownds, who also led the Palmetto United U9 team that is ranked No. 1 in South Carolina. That team has several overlap players with the Blue squad.
Inter Catawba now feeds into Palmetto United. Palmetto’s U17 team of mostly Lake Wylie and Clover boys didn’t win a game last season, but finished second in the state a month ago.
“As a whole have some the best and most talented young soccer players in the United States,” Sykes said.
“We look forward to continue to represent this area the best we can.”