Utah players shift focus to club soccer

Two weeks ago, Lexi Selman helped Alta (Sandy, Utah) to a state title. Now her focus shifts to guiding Utah Avalanche to a strong ECNL showing. S. Hamblin/Utah Avalanche

Two weeks ago, Taylor Campbell, Megan Millerberg and Lexi Selman were in the middle of a dog pile. Their high school, Alta (Sandy, Utah), had just won its fifth state title in the last six seasons. After a 19-1 season and their third state championship, these three girls closed the books on a decorated high school career.

They woke up Monday morning with a new team, a new goal and a new challenge.

Campbell, Millerberg and Selman are also teammates for Utah Avalanche, which opens its ECNL season this week on the road in Colorado.

The Avalanche U18 roster includes eight players who participated in the state semifinals and/or finals for their high school team. Now, just two weeks after the UHSAA state tournament, those players have to find the chemistry to compete at a higher level.

“We’ve had seven practices since we got everyone back from high school,” says Krissa Reinbold, a coach in the Avalanche club. “We want to get them as ready as possible in seven days.”

To complicate things, the team opens its ECNL schedule on the road against the top two teams in the Mountain West Conference: Saturday against Real Colorado and Sunday against Colorado Rush.

“We do have a little bit of a disadvantage coming straight off the high school schedule because our girls haven’t been playing with each other in quite some time,” said Jo Barney, head coach for the U18 team. “But we’re used to that. We have to rely on the fact that these girls have been playing together for a long time, so they know each other well and know how to play well together.”

The U18 squad finished third in ECNL Flight B last year, narrowly missing a chance to play for the Flight B National Championship. Ironically, its last two games of the season were against Real Colorado and Colorado Rush, both wins. This year, the Avalanche open up against the familiar foes.

“It’s exciting to play the top clubs right off the bat. It’s a chance to go out and see where we’re at as a team,” Reinbold said.

Barney says that the biggest adjustment for the players will be catching up to speed on the ECNL game. It’s faster and more technical than the high school game, and playing the top teams first will add to the challenge.

“They know what it takes to play at this level,” said Barney of her team. “They know the level of fitness and competitiveness that the ECNL is versus high school. They understand what they have to be ready for.”

The Avalanche U18 squad is packed with Division I commits. Forward Emily Bruder, a national team player, is committed to Stanford. Defender Audrey Gibb is committed to Oregon State. Selman will be headed to Arizona. Campbell is headed to BYU. And the list keeps going; it’s a stacked roster with talent from the center back to the lead striker.

And they’ll need contributions from everyone this weekend. Colorado Rush enters the weekend in sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference at 7-2. Real Colorado is not far behind in second place at 8-3-1. And to make things more interesting, Denver got four inches of snow this week.