The Leavenworth United U10 Arsenal team took first place in the Heartland Invitational Tournament (HIT) played Nov 1-3 at Overland Park Soccer Complex to win the premier top-flight division for the U10 age group.
This tournament is one the biggest all girls tournaments in the Midwest and attracts teams from all over the region.
The Arsenal team played in the Red division with pool play, with three teams in each pool, and the winner of each pool playing in the final for the divisions championship.
Coach Greg Ruff said, "It has been a long season. Within one year, we went from the sixth division in Heartland to the first division.
“And during that run, this team got used to winning a lot of games. In the new division, that was not the case. We had a large learning curve to figure out how to play at that level and against the best players in the KC area.
“We did not finish last in the division, but we did not win a game either. The team ended up tying two games and we were very competitive the whole season against the best teams in KC.
“The division winners only beat us 1-0 and 2-0. Not bad for a group of girls from Leavenworth that had not been heard of before by the opposing teams.
“Regardless, we needed some success and this tournament win was huge for the girls to gain some confidence back, to instill belief in their training, and that they were getting better.
“Actually, winning games does not mean much to me, it is about how you are developing into a faster, more skillful player, that makes fast and good decisions to be successful at the highest level of play.
“These girls found that out first hand in the HIT tournament and that was a key reason why we challenged ourselves to play in the first division. You have to play the best to be the best."
The fruit of the teams’ labors showed in this tournament. They had one close game against a very good Blue Valley Soccer Club team.
We came out in our first game and did not play very well in the first half and we were down 2-0.
But the second half was a different story. The girls put three in the net and held the BVSC team scoreless in the second half to take a 3-2 win in the first a game.
"I will tell you if this was last year, we would have lost that game,” Ruff. Said. “We never came from behind and believed we could win like this in the past.”
The next three games are good examples of why playing in the first division pays off.
Page 2 of 3 - Once these girls had their confidence back, there was no stopping them.
In the second game, LUSC Arsenal played a VSA team from Iowa and won 4-1.
In the Arsenal crossover game against the other pool teams, they played the sister team from VSA and won that game 7-0.
The team went 3-0 in pool play and scored 14 goals and allowed three in the pool play to advance to the championship game.
The championship game was a great final with the LUSC Arsenal team facing a very good side from the KS Rush out of Olathe.
"I know the Rush teams well,” Ruff said. “They are a class organization that puts player development over wining and it pays great dividends for the families of that organization.
“I know because both my kids play for that organization. I trust them as a coach and to be playing their Nike team was a great honor for us. I knew we were in for a game.”
The Rush came out fast and scored on LUSC in the first few minutes of the first half to go up 1-0.
“We played this team last year in one of our first experiences as a premier team and lost 2-1 to them,” Ruff said. “Now, the team was down 1-0 and it stayed that way for almost the whole first half, but LUSC Arsenal was able to put one goal in right before half.
“I told the girls at halftime to just give me 25 more minutes of playing your hearts out to go home a champion and not let it slip through your fingers.”
Plus, it helped that I told them they would get the week off from training.
That second half was a totally different team out there. Their development in the first division started to show in the second half.
The team took a 3-1 lead midway through the second half.
The Rush came back with a goal of its own to stay in the game at 3-2 with about 10 minutes to go in the championship.
Then the final five minutes, Arsenal scored two more goals to seal the championship.
"I believe they really wanted that week off,” coach Ruff chuckled. “All joking aside, this team showed why we had to go through the humility of learning to lose so we could then figure out how to win at this level.
“I will tell you I was completely shocked at how well we played after the first half of the first game.
“I saw all the lessons we learned, the speed of play, the ability to think faster and make quicker decisions all come into play with these young ladies during this tournament.
Page 3 of 3 - “I saw it over and over again, that is a benefit of their hard work against the best. I was blessed to stumble upon this group of young ladies and parents that believe in me and understand what I am trying to accomplish with these young ladies.
“To open doors that are usually closed to our kids from Leavenworth. These girls do themselves, parents, coaches and their community a wonderful service by representing all of us in such a positive manner and I am very proud to say "hat they let me coach them.
“If you ever see this group of girls out and about, thank them for all they do by representing our community so well.
“It was a good weekend to a tough season, but isn't that what life is about, figuring out how to get it done when it appears like you cannot. Life lesson learned through sports!”