"They are definitely ready for the next level," said Meijer, the National League Mid Atlantic EDP Conference squad's head coach. "Last year we won the league, going undefeated. We scored a lot of goals. We were very competitive in a lot of games. The team picked up a few players that I think will make the team stronger compared to last year. So, I am looking forward to the season."
The same goes for Giuliano Celenza, coach of the 15U Baltimore Union SC
Elite 04 team, who compete in the National League South Atlantic EDP Conference.
"Our girls always come out ready to play," said Celenza, who took over this team last year. "So this is my first full year with them. We're looking forward to playing in the National League Conference. It's something that we strived for, worked for, so to get the opportunity is great.
"We're looking forward to it. It's a great opportunity for the girls to continue to grow as a team, as players, and continue to play great competition. As a kid when you start playing, you always want to play the best. I'm a believer that if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."
What it Takes to WIn
Playing in the National League EDP Conferences is a step up over what teams have encountered in the past. The competition is top, top-level quality.
"Every game, you come ready to play," he said. "Like I tell my girls now, 'You're in one of the top brackets. Everybody's gunning for you. Everybody wants to beat you. You're there for a reason and so are the other teams. You can't take any days off. You have to come ready to play and if you don't, then you're going to lose. Those other teams are just as good, if not better."
Meijer, who guided the Watchung Hills Elite 2006B Litmanen to a National League Mid-Atlantic EDP Conference Boys 13U championship last fall, couldn't agree more.
"The biggest thing is that when you play in the National League, there are no weak teams so there are no easy games," he said. "That will help the girls get ready for college and being consistent, being able to provide consistency compared to the level, being able to focus every time for practice and games. That's the biggest thing they will be able to get out of this season prior to going to off to college. Almost all of them are going to play in college. So, it's definitely an invaluable experience to them."
While training is vital for a team's success, sometimes the most important moments for a team comes off the field.
Meijer's Watchung Hills girls squad had a training session scheduled for Thursday, but one player was the lead in a school play at Somerville High School in New Jersey. So, the girls decided to attend opening night along with their coach.That's what makes the team so rewarding for Meijer, who called it "a good balance between being competitive but being there for each other."
"We're all going to go as a team and support her in a non-soccer activity," he said. "I think that speaks volumes as a team. They're there for each other, no matter what they're into, no matter where their interests lie. They support that. We have a couple of players that are very good in other sports and they have supported each other in that as well. I think that's really necessary to be a real team and to be able to be consistent over a long period of time.
"To me, that's more valuable than an actual practice session."
It could be quite a busy season as well for Baltimore Union as it has a schedule that includes 18 games in six weeks.
"We play a pretty intense schedule," Celenza said. "So, you have to be pretty careful, not to overdo it."
The team has 16 players, which includes two goalkeepers.
"You have to be pretty smart," Celenza said. "You don't want to overdo it and have lingering injuries. You want everybody to be healthy as much as you can. Some people don't really understand that. If you've been involved in soccer for a long time it's important to keep everyone healthy."
Enjoying the moment
For Watchung, this will be the team's final season together as the team is dominated by high school seniors, plus three juniors.
"I've heard them a couple of times, 'Like this is going to be our last winter training, this is going to be our last spring training, last sleep-over tournament,' " Meijer said. "So it's definitely on their mind. Our goal is still to qualify for regionals and then nationals -- so we hope to extend our season as far as possible, but as we get closer to the summer, i think it will start to dawn on them a little bit more."
Like many squads, both teams want to win the regionals in their respective age groups and reach the nationals.
"It's a special group, Celenza said. "The girls are super skillful. They've been together since a young age. Obviously, we have added players here and there. They played together for so long they know each other's instincts. They just play well together. They work hard for one another."
"At this point, other than my juniors, everybody is committed to college," Meijer said. "The team got better compared to last year. So, it's just going out there, having fun, without the weight of the recruitment process being over, having that weight lifted and just be able to go out and really play and have fun with it. I think the girls will do well under that."