They’re not in Kansas anymore. But when they were, they made history.

Members of a local youth team took a dramatic step into the lore of area club soccer this month, becoming the first-ever Santa Monica United squad to win a national title.

The under-13 girls captured the Presidents Cup championship July 12 in Overland Park, Kansas, wrapping up a thrilling season with an accomplishment that was five months in the making.

“Our motto along the way was ‘Why not us?'” said coach Fabian Amezaga, whose team celebrated its landmark campaign with a viewing party Monday at Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica. “Why couldn’t we be the first team to make club history? We worked extremely hard on the mental aspect of the game and made sure that, regardless of the outcome, we wanted to say we left it all out on the pitch.”

The groundwork for the journey was laid in March, when the girls claimed a CalSouth state championship. The victory propelled them into the West regional tournament of the Presidents Cup held in June in Washington state, where they snagged the Region IV title and earned a spot in the national competition.

“This team never fails to amaze me,” said Manu Appelius, the club’s technical director. “I knew after the State Cup win that they could go far and win [the West regional], but this went beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.”

In Kansas, where dozens of teams from across the country were competing in five age brackets for boys and girls, SMU advanced to the title match thanks to its performances in pool play.

Guided by Amezaga and assistant Robert Bahedry, the girls defeated North Carolina’s Charlotte Soccer Academy 2-0 with goals by Sadie Holt and Riley Adams and a stingy defensive effort anchored by goalkeeper Cara Conroy.

Santa Monica then edged Pennsylvania’s North Union United 3-2 with two penalty-kick goals by Giulia Trevellin and one goal by Tupelo Sullivan.

Despite falling 2-0 to Kansas Rush Wichita in their third game of pool play, they secured a rematch with Charlotte in the finals thanks to a tiebreaker.

“I can’t say enough good things about this team,” Amezaga said. “I think the biggest hurdle for them was believing in themselves and believing that they could get the job done.”

Their previous setback behind them, the girls were focused in the title match. After 18 scoreless minutes, Holt collected Dakota Margolis’ corner kick and powered a shot into the net to give Santa Monica a 1-0. It turned out to be the only goal of the match.

“All 20 players contributed to this championship along the way,” Amezaga said. “This team epitomizes the definition of a team. There are no superstars and they genuinely want to see each other succeed. I am so proud of them and they deserve this.”

Conroy received her bracket’s Golden Gloves award for her efforts in goal. SMU also won the sportsmanship award, another honor in what was already a memorable season for the girls.

“I now hope they get a well deserved break and that they are able to recharge their batteries,” Appelius said. “Because a lot more adventures are ahead of them.”

jeff@smdp.com

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