Glastonbury residents Kelly Stepnowski (left) and Katherine Zaino celebrate by kissing the trophy after Oakwood's 17-U team won the national championship on July 10
The Oakwood Soccer Club U17 team became national champions on July 10, defeating Florida United to secure the Girls Academy (GA) National Championship in St. Louis, MO.
Girls Academy is the leading youth development platform for soccer players in the United States, comprised of 80 clubs in eight conferences across the nation and consisting of over 10,000 female players.
Oakwood head coach Chris Mogavero called the co-op of 16 girls a “cohesive group” that was dedicated and determined. The title team featured players from 11 towns, including three Glastonbury residents in Skylar Fiske, Kelly Stepnowski, and Katherine Zaino.
Following a 1st place finish in the GA Northeast Conference, Oakwood went to California and won three games in the playoffs to reach the knockout stage in St. Louis. They would defeat TSJ FC Virginia in the quarterfinals and Lonestar SC in the semifinals before ending the championship run with a 1-0 redemption win over Florida United in the title tilt.
“Their willingness to make small sacrifices individually made the team better,” Mogavero said of the championship club.
The win over Florida United was memorable for several reasons. Along with earning a championship trophy, they also avenged a pair of losses to The Sunshine State team, who had previously beat Oakwood in March during the Champions League and in the consolation round a year ago.
After a semifinal exit last summer, the team returned this season with plenty of motivation and talent.
Mogavero said the team had a single focus once the playoffs started this summer.
“The girls were saying they were going to St. Louis no matter what. All of them were really committed to putting their best foot forward for the playoffs,” recalled Mogavero, who could sense a rematch with Florida looming. “The girls didn’t care who they played. They were pretty confident in themselves and the team, and they were pretty comfortable with whoever we played. None of them were scared.”
All three Glastonbury players played pivotal roles for the small, yet mighty squad.
Fiske was a gritty defender that played every minute in the semifinals and championship match.
Mogavero noted Fiske’s improvement this season, adding, “Her fitness and work rate are excellent.”
Stepnowski played midfield, shining defensively and setting up teammates offensively.
“She can run all day long,” said Mogavero. “She is super-fast and athletic”
Zaino gave the team positional flexibility with her ability to play anywhere in the middle and on the defensive end.
Mogavero called Zaino a technical player that was “excellent with the ball in the air” and “one of the best passers on the team.”
In the championship victory over Florida, Aubrey Kulpa (Cromwell) scored the game’s only goal and earned the Most Valuable Player. Goalie Kaitlyn Dedame (South Windsor) was awarded the Golden Glove after helping preserve the shutout. Dedame and Katrina Chorzepa (Berlin) rotated at goalie in the championship game and throughout the season.
The Oakwood Soccer Club is based in Glastonbury at 40 Oakwood Drive, practicing and playing at the indoor facility in Glastonbury during the winter months and at Sports Medicine & Orthopedic, PC Park on Glastonbury Turnpike in Portland during the fall and spring season.
Mary Kate Sullivan (Cromwell), a team captain, said that the culture at Oakwood is what makes championship-worthy teams, adding, “I hear stories where people don’t have good experiences or coaches ruin the game for them. We’ve been fortunate to be in such great environments.”
“We try to build a culture that is a family,” said Mogavero. It’s not a huge club, it’s a smaller club. We want to get all the girls on the same side, so they are not competing against each other and instead with each other and promoting each other.”
Mogavero added that the local club is about creating a positive environment where the girls can develop soccer skills and “become good citizens along the way.”
Visit oakwoodsoccer.com for more information about the soccer club.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin