Friday, August 4, 2006

Sawtooth Premier reaches Final Eight in Denmark

Local girls do well in international soccer

Express Staff Writer

The Sawtooth United Premier girls? soccer team poses just prior to their Dana Cup official team photo taken July 24 in Denmark. Front row, from left, Elsa Sweek, assistant captain, Hannah Hennessy, captain, Danielle Smith and Jazz Campbell. Middle row, from left, Sam Johnson, Emily Eshman, goalkeepers Caiti Leo and Kathryn Farmer, Brianna Hull-Mullins and Chloe Lynn. Back row, from left, Jessie Curran, Delaney Fox, Laura Elgee, Calley Brown, Aimee Evans, Cody Curran and Michelle McMurdo. Courtesy photo.

They warmed up in Sweden and they were hot, so hot by the time they got to Denmark.

Seventeen Wood River Valley high school girls made up the Sawtooth United Premier travel team that played nine international soccer tournament games during a 14-day European trip from July 14-29.

Highlight was the team's 3-1-1 record and quarterfinal appearance in the Girls' 17 division of the 25th anniversary Dana Cup played in the beachside town of Hjorring, oldest town in northern Denmark.

Sawtooth Premier made the Final Eight of the 28-team Girls' 17 group and outscored its opponents 11-4 during the five games played in Denmark. The Wood River Valley girls also represented the U.S. in the July 24 opening ceremonies.

It was quite an international gathering of youth and Sawtooth Premier girls got a real kick out of their newly formed bonds with kids from other countries. There were 609 boys' teams in 11-19 age groups and 223 girls' teams from ages 13-19.

Transportation was fun as well. Accompanying the girls were coaches Greg Gvozdas and Rob Butterfield, team manager Laura Gvozdas, team trainer John Koth, his wife Sherri and their son Taylor. The Idaho group traveled by ferry, train, plane, car and bus.

They didn't jell as a team right away but got better.

Sawtooth Premier (4-4-1 for the trip) won its first game 2-1 over Sweden July 17 in the opening round of the Gothia Cup at Gothenburg, Sweden. Sam Johnson and Delaney Fox scored in the victory. The Gothia Cup is the largest youth soccer tournament in the world with 1,496 teams and 68 nations represented. There were 80 squads in U17 girls' group.

After that first win—and the thrilling Gothia Cup opening ceremonies before 40,000 in Ullevi Stadium that evening—Sawtooth's girls struggled with 3-0, 2-0 and 1-0 losses to teams from Norway and Sweden.

Denmark was different.

Aimee Evans (penalty kick), Hannah Hennessy and Fox scored in Sawtooth Premier's Dana Cup victory over Brevik of Norway July 25.

On her 16th birthday, Elsa Sweek scored twice to go along with two goals by Johnson and a single by Fox in Sawtooth Premier's 5-1 rout of the team from Tundern, Germany.

A hard-fought 0-0 tie with Voss from Norway gave Sawtooth Premier first place in preliminary group play because of the Idaho team's 8-6 goals differential compared to Voss in group action. But Idaho still needed one more victory to move into the quarterfinals.

They got it 2-1 over a Norwegian side Thursday, July 27—meaning Sawtooth Premier was unbeaten in its first four Dana Cup tournament games.

Trailing 1-0, Sawtooth Premier got a huge breakaway goal by Cody Curran. Then Fox scored the eventual winner after a free kick by Evans. Playing exemplary defense were Michelle McMurdo, Danielle Smith and Jessie Curran, and Idaho goalkeeper Caiti Leo made some excellent saves.

It turned out to be Idaho's final victory. Final Eight opponent Denmark scored on two set pieces off corner kicks and held off Sawtooth Premier's late rally 2-1. Calley Brown took a corner kick that Sweek knocked towards the goal, and Fox kicked into the net.

Fox (5 goals) ended up as the leading scorer over nine games. Johnson (3) and Sweek (2) were next. Singles went to Evans, Hennessy and Cody Curran.

The narrow loss was an emotional finish to a jampacked two weeks of fun.

Manager Laura Gvozdas said, "Afterwards, when the team huddled in a circle for one last time, there wasn't a dry eye in sight. The girls were emotional about losing the game as well as realizing that the trip was nearly over and they wouldn't be playing together again. You could see how much it meant to them."

Fortunately they'll soon be playing soccer again. Ten are from Wood River High School's soccer team, ranging from incoming sophomores to seniors. And seven are from The Community School of Sun Valley.

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.

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