Seventeen Wood River Valley high school girls are eagerly looking forward to a 14-day European trip in July.
Their fortnight away from home has a special significance this World Cup soccer year. That's because they'll be playing soccer competitively in Sweden and Denmark.
For the second time in three summers, the Sawtooth United Premier program is taking Wood River High and Community School girls to Europe to play soccer. In Sweden, they'll be part of the world's biggest youth soccer tournament.
It's a big thrill for the Premier group coached by Greg Gvozdas and Rob Butterfield, head coach and assistant coach of the Wood River High girls' varsity soccer program. For months, the girls have been working toward their goal.
Last Friday night, their list of team bonding activities made an important pit-stop at the Relay for Life overnight fundraiser at Phil Homer Field in Hailey. The girls raised over $3,000 for the American Cancer Society and took many laps around the high school track.
During the winter the girls completed monthly fitness testing and team bonding get-togethers. They enjoyed a team scavenger hunt and a dodge ball contest. They learned from Sweden/Denmark "Jeopardy" questions and answers.
Since late May, the girls have gathered for three-times-a-week outdoor training sessions at the Sagewillow Soccer Complex in Elkhorn. These sessions will continue until the July 15 departure date.
Most of the girls know each other, but they come from two different high schools so the team bonding helped the girls get acquainted. Ten are from Wood River High's soccer team, ranging from incoming sophomores to seniors. Seven are from The Community School.
Team captain is Wood River senior defender Danielle Smith, and the assistant captain is Community School junior Hannah Hennessy.
One unique aspect of this year's European trip is that, for the first time, Sawtooth United Premier was fortunate enough to be sponsored by a national soccer gear company called Score American Soccer.
Score American Soccer equipped the team fully with warm-ups, uniforms, practice shirts, balls, backpacks and duffle travel bags. Such a sponsorship is unique among athletic teams in the valley, Sawtooth Premier organizers said.
Once in Europe, Sawtooth United Premier will jump right into the action by competing July 17-19 in the U17 age group of the Gothia Cup at Gothenburg, Sweden. There are 80 teams in U17s. Sawtooth will play teams from Sweden and Norway in the first round.
The Gothia Cup is the largest youth soccer tournament in the world with 1,496 teams and 68 nations represented. Over a six-day period, there will be 4,320 games played on 90 fields at Gothenburg. Average age of participants is 15.5, and nearly 30% of players are girls.
Opening ceremonies at the Gothia Cup are conducted in Scandinavia's largest arena, called Ullevi Stadium. Over 45,000 people attended the opening ceremony last year.
After the Gothia Cup, the Sawtooth United Premier party will travel to Copenhagen, Denmark for the 25th anniversary Dana Cup in the beachside town of Hjorring, oldest town in northern Denmark. The Dana Cup is set for July 24-29. And then, it's back to Idaho.
One of the Sawtooth United Premier girls has never flown on an airplane before. So there will be plenty of new things to see and do.
Greg and Laura Gvozdas of Ketchum established Sawtooth United Premier in 2003 to give Wood River Valley high school girls the chance to further their soccer and travel experience. Both played college soccer at DePauw University in Indiana. Laura Gvozdas was a member of Wood River High School's first soccer teams from 1993-95.
They felt the training involved would help the girls in their fall seasons, and they were right.
In July 2004, the inaugural Premier team of 20 local players traveled to Maastricht, Holland and trained for three days prior to competing in the Holland Cup. They played soccer against teams from Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.
That team finished second in The Challenge Cup competition and earned the "Fair Play Award" fore the U17 girls' group. One of the positive outcomes from the trip was a lasting bond between Wood River and Community School players. And both teams did well in fall seasons.
In addition to this year's unprecedented Score American Soccer support, Sawtooth United Premier has received financial support from local businesses and individuals.
Tax-deductible donations have helped buy team uniforms. The funds have assisted with travel costs while also minimizing costs for players.
Support has come from Jim Cimino, Clearwater Landscaping, Dr. Jim McElveen, Jim and Barbara Figge, Hawaii Modular Space, Hennessy Company, Intermountain Construction, Kearns Builders, Koth Physical Therapy, KSVT, McLaughlin & Associates and Perry's Restaurant;
Also, Les and Estelle Reid, River Run Realty, Ruscitto/Latham/Blanton, Scott USA, Smith Sport Optics, Stuhlbergs, Sturtevants, Sun Country Management, Sun Valley Auto Club, Sun Valley Garden Center and Sun Valley Wine Company.
Questions about financial assistance to the Premier program can be directed to Laura Gvozdas at firstname.lastname@example.org.