Last year, the Eclipse Select U-15 girls soccer team became the first in club history to win an Elite Club National League championship.
A year older and just as talented, the same group — now playing at the U-16 level — became the club’s first team to repeat as champions. The girls finished their title run July 17 with a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Texans in Richmond, Virginia.
“The winning is what it is, but the journey there is the most rewarding thing,” said Rory Dames, the team’s coach and president of the Eclipse Select Soccer Club. “It took a fantastic effort within itself to get back to the finals.”
The adversity started early for Eclipse Select when the team lost three key players to injuries: Courtney Daugerdas of Libertyville, Abby Dein of Glenview and Mikaela Niermann of Geneva.
“We had to reshuffle the lineup but the beauty of this group is the depth,” Dames said. “It’s by far the most talented group in the country at this age from top to bottom.”
A turning point came early this spring on a trip to Daugerdas’ lake house for two nights and a day of boot camp conditioning drills and team-building exercises.
“We all had to work through different situations together,” said Hannah Marwede of Lake Forest, who said a particular highlight was a marathon game of capture the flag that didn’t end until well after the sun went down.
Being the defending champs and taking everyone’s best shot didn’t grind Eclipse Select down. The players used that as motivation.
“We had a big target on our back and that really drove us,” Marwede said.
Eclipse Select received a boost in the Championship League playoff round when it earned its trip to the finals. Eclipse Select welcomed Daugerdas back from her injury and she contributed each match off the bench.
“My goal was to make sure I got back this year,” Daugerdas said. “It was exciting to be able to play again and it allowed me to have a stronger love for the sport.”
In that round, Eclipse Select’s season almost came to an end. Trailing Seattle Crossfire 2-1 in stoppage time in a match the Eclipse needed to at least tie to advance, the girls came through with the most dramatic goal of the season.
“After the game people were crying it was so emotional,” Marwede said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited.”
In the final against the Dallas Texans, Lea Waddle of Lake Forest scored the match-winner off an assist from Highland Park’s Zoe Redei.
The Eclipse Select played a significant portion of the season without Redei, who was a regular with the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team.
“Zoe is special, there’s no way around it,” Dames said. “She gives us a different level of confidence and occupies so much attention that she creates space for the other players. When we got her back for the playoffs we were a different team.”