By Dillon Friday, Marketing & Communications Manager, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer
North Union United Wave coach Shawn Callendar broke protocol late in his team’s match against Pateadores Irvine White. With the US Youth Soccer U14 Girls National Presidents Cup on the line, the Wave earned a late corner kick, and Callendar, rather than shout instructions, stayed silent.
“Usually we call a play on a corner,” Callendar told Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer. “This time I didn’t.”
Instead, Gracia Eckenrode took account for the blustery wind—she aimed a few yards farther right on her in-swinger—and delivered a ball that shot straight into the goal.
The improbable strike gave the Wave a 2-1 lead with almost no time on the clock.
“We didn’t want to go to overtime,” said Callendar.
He had good reason for that. Pateadores Irvine White, the champions of Cal-South, had beaten North Union 2-1 in the preliminary round at the Mohawk Sports Complex in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Plus, an extra session would have allowed the Californians to take advantage of the wind that the Wave used to climb back into the game.
Despite Eckenrode’s late goal, North Union wasn’t out of the woods just yet. The referee announced two minutes of added time, and just as those two minutes were up, Pateadores was awarded a corner kick of their own.
“One thing they were good at was corners,” Callendar recalled. “The ref was going to allow them to take it. We cleared it, and got up the field as fast as we could.”
The whistle blew. The Wave became the first Eastern Pennsylvania girls team to win the National Presidents Cup, and the state association’s fourth champion overall.
“It was joyful,” said Callendar. “The parents’ reaction was priceless. They were hugging and jumping and high-fiving.”
Getting to that point wasn’t easy by any stretch. The Wave trailed 1-0 after the first half, but Callendar remained confident for two main reasons. First, his team would have the wind at their back in the crucial second half. Second, they had revenge on their mind.
“I think it would be almost better to be the team that lost before a rematch,” Callendar admitted.
The Wave started out briskly after the break and were some 20 minutes in when Paige Temple equalized. North Union was unlucky to not take the lead sooner. But the mantra of this team is to play 100 percent until the final whistle. They displayed remarkable fitness considering the stifling heat and sometimes unpredictable weather in Tulsa. In the end, they were rewarded for it.
The dramatic finish epitomized North Union’s run through the Presidents Cup. The Wave opened the tournament with what Callendar called, “(their) worst practice of the year.” In their first game, North Union tied 4-4 with Eclipse Elite 20 (Illinois).
They followed up that draw with the 2-1 loss to Pateadores, a contest that the Wave led 1-0. Now, with one point in two games, their national title hopes were hanging by a thread.
“We met that morning,” Callendar said of the preparation to face McAllen United Angels (South Texas) in the third and final preliminary match. “Let’s control what we can control. We need to be plus-2 (in goal differential) to move on.”
The Wave responded with a 4-1 victory. Meanwhile, Pateadores defeated Eclipse Elite on the opposite field, 1-0 to secure the rematch Callendar wanted.
“We all scoreboard watch,” he said. “You’re always peaking over your shoulder. I had to turn around. I was watching the other game.
“The girls didn’t know we were in.”
They didn’t disappoint in the final. The Wave’s national championship marks a crowning achievement for a proud club out of a community, Lewisburg, with a strong soccer pedigree. Several of North Union’s older teams feature players who will continue their careers in college. Local high schools routinely compete in the PIAA state playoffs. And the Wave were one of three state champions this Spring.
The U12 Boys North Union Vipers won the Eastern Pennsylvania Turkey Hill Challenge Cup, while the North Union Strikers took the U13 Girls Eastern Pennsylvania Presidents Cup title.
“For the most part, people around here are hardworking,” said Callendar of the secret to North Union’s success. “We have people who are dedicated. Our soccer is about teams that play the right way and they come from tight-knit families.”
That’s just how the Wave got started. Ray Bull (father of Lauren) and Pat Temple (father of Paige) organized the team as an under-9 outfit. They recruited from AYSA games and later added Callendar as a coach prior to last season.
They plan on commemorating the championship with rings for the coaches and zip-ups for the players. They returned to the Lewisburg area worn-out heroes but heroes none-the-less.
“I could have slept for three days,” Callendar said. “It’s been such a roller coaster.”
After all, roller coasters are meant to be fun.