by Moira Cullings
RICHMOND, Va. — The Kansas City Athletics U-15 girls soccer team was never expected to win the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) national championship
They weren’t even expected to make it to the final.
So when they did, their opponent, the San Diego Surf from California, didn’t seem worried.
“When we got to the field, they were playing music and laughing and taking it as a joke,” said Dory Latenser, a sophomore at Bishop Miege High School and parishioner at St. Agnes Parish, both in Roeland Park.
“That got me pretty excited,” she said. “They thought it was going to be really easy.”
But the Surf was wrong. On July 19, the team from Kansas City, led by head coach Vasil Ristov, came ready to fight.
Tied 0-0 at halftime, KC Athletics gave up a goal early in the second half. But the girls never gave up, ultimately countering with two goals of their own to seal the win.
“After the second goal, I couldn’t believe it,” said Anisten Cabantac, a freshman at St. Thomas Aquinas High School and a member of Holy Spirit Parish, both in Overland Park.
Cabantac scored the first goal off a free kick that went untouched through the penalty box and slid past the Surf’s goalie.
“Once Anisten scored the first goal, I think we really started to have more momentum,” said Avery Rasmussen, a freshman at St. James Academy in Lenexa and parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee.
“That’s what really triggered the last goal and us fighting for the last 15 minutes,” she added.
KC Athletics defied the odds throughout the national tournament, eventually earning their way to the quarterfinal game after making it out of the playoff round in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.
They came back from behind during the quarterfinals and ended up tying World Class FC from New York in the semifinals, which forced a penalty kick shootout to decide the winner.
“During the semifinals, I was praying so hard,” said Latenser.
Leaning on faith during big games is nothing new for the girls.
“I usually say a quick prayer before every game,” said Bella Haggerty, a sophomore at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park and parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood. “It just makes me feel better, and at times during the game, I definitely leaned on my faith.”
In the end, the athletes believe what separated their team from the rest of the competition was attitude, heart and the community they’ve built since they all began playing together in 2018.
“We’re all very connected,” said Shelby Kindt, a sophomore at Mill Valley High School and parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish, both in Shawnee.
“We are all really a family,” she added. “We support each other.”
Kindt suffered an injury shortly before nationals but was able to watch a livestream of the final game, which she said was both frustrating and exciting.
“When you’re on the sideline, you can cheer and support your team physically,” she said. “When you’re watching virtually and you can’t say anything, it’s very annoying because you know you can’t go in and help.”
But Kindt was amazed by her team’s performance and proud of their victory.
That type of support is something Rasmussen said makes KC Athletics special.
“We keep going and we push each other,” she said. “We all want the same thing so we’re all in it together.”
Cabantac said the nationals experience made the girls even closer.
“We were with each other pretty much every day over the summer,” she said. “We traveled all together.
“We suffered hardships together, we went through good and bad moments together, and we won together.”
Haggerty is a testament to the adversity the team faced throughout nationals.
“I was playing with an injury this entire tournament and physically I wasn’t 100 percent,” she said, “so at times, I felt really challenged.
“But what got me through this time was having my teammates back there with me.”
Haggerty said the team’s performance “doesn’t feel real.”
“We worked so hard and went through many challenges this soccer season,” she said, “so we definitely deserve this.
“I will remember this experience for the rest of my life.”
The athletes will also relish the fact that they were the underdogs through it all.
“That’s what I love about soccer,” said Kindt. “The numbers might add up against your favor, but you never know [the result] until you play the game.”
Latenser said their success is evidence of that.
“We went in being happy to be there,” she said, “and we came out on top.”