This was a business trip.
And never has business been so much fun.
A year ago, the Coppa Rage advanced to the finals of the U.S. Youth Soccer nationals, but fell just short. This year, they accomplished their goal.
The Rage defeated Tonka United 5-0 on Sunday morning to secure the U-17 championship, marking the first time a girls team from Philadelphia ended up with the championship, and the first of any team since Lighthouse boys won the U19 championship in 1967.
The trip to Orlando wasn’t about seeing Mickey Mouse or riding the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This was about playing soccer.
“We went down there to play soccer and win a championship,” said Abby Fitzmaurice, a senior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy High School who lives in Morrell Park. “But we have so much fun when we play soccer together. We love the games and we love winning.
“We went down there with one goal in mind, we wanted to win. After last year, we were all devastated after last year and we focused and prepared to come down to win.”
“We went to Disney a few times, but this trip was more soccer than anything,” said Gianna Rivera, a junior at Archbishop Ryan who lives in Fox Chase. “But it was so much fun. Winning it was so much fun. That was our goal, we really wanted to win after last year. It was great last year, but losing really hurt. It feels so much better to win.”
Rivera scored five goals, including two in the championship game, during the tournament, and added a couple of assists, en route to being selected one of the top 11 players in the tournament.
The Rage proved they can play with any girls soccer team in the nation last week. They went 5-0 against the best competition in the country, and won the championship in a game that featured very little drama. Maura Day, Emma Levin and Taylor Mays added goals for the Rage in the championship game.
The Rage was coached by Tom DeGeorge, the girls soccer coach at Archbishop Wood, and consists of the top players from the Philadelphia area. The team scored less than a minute into the championship game and continued to pile up the goals.
“We were just so focused and everyone played well,” Rivera said. “We knew we had a chance to go far after last year, but it was so important for us to win. I think last year, losing, gave us more fire and pushed us more. It’s one of the main reasons we won.”
The Rage won because it has the best talent.
If you look over the roster, you see that the team is full of girls who are stars at the high school level. The best of the best throughout Philly and the suburbs are on this team.
But the Rage is better than the sum of its parts.
This isn’t an all-star team that was thrown together to win. This is a group of girls who have been on the same team for years, and they didn’t just want to win, they wanted to win for each other.
“It’s great to play with girls you go to high school with, but the talent is from everywhere,” Fitzmaurice said. “It definitely means more to win with this team. We wanted to win because a lot of us are seniors, so there’s a chance this could be our last time playing together. It means so much that we were able to win as a team.”
“This team is very close,” Rivera said. “I think because on and off the field, we trust each other and we’re always there for each other. Especially in high school, we go to school together, so we go to each other’s games. We play hard against each other, but we love being on the same team and winning together.”
By playing in this tournament, the Rage didn’t just show other soccer players that they were the best.
A lot of college scouts visited the tournament to see the top prospects, and the Rage certainly played their A game while plowing through the competition.
“I didn’t talk to any of them, but I got some emails,” said Fitzmaurice, who hasn’t picked a college but hopes to major in something in the medical field. “I definitely want to play in college. We’ll see what happens.”
Now Rivera and Fitzmaurice are taking some time off to recover from a brutal seven-day stretch that saw them play five games. But it won’t be long until they’re back on the field, preparing for high school soccer.
“I need some rest after that, but I’ll be back soon,” Rivera said. “We have workouts for high school and then tryouts. We also have our soccer camp at Ryan this week. I missed (Monday), but I’ll be there the rest of the week.”
Sure, it’s back to business as normal, but it will be a long time before these girls forget winning a national championship.
“Just hearing the whistle and knowing we won, it was so exciting,” Fitzmaurice said. “We were the underdogs, but we went out and played together. We worked so hard for this, not just in the past year, but since we’ve been playing together.
“I’m a center back, so I’m so proud of the way our defense played. We went up against so many great teams and great strikers, and I thought we played well together. Winning this means everything.”
The team consists of Kayla Kulp, Sam Ridler, Olivia Linus, Mercedez Piano, Ava DeGeorge, Alexis Ocasio, Fitzmaurice, Isabella Brown, Brigid McDonald, Rivera, Elena Franklin, Stefania Mladenoff, Maura Day, Carley Slavin, Ella McAleer, Taylor Mays, Samantha Pastino and Emma Levin.