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Norway Cup Winners Have a Championship Story to Tell

Victorious Santa Barbara United girls recount soccer success and the thrill of their young lifetimes.

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A team photo is a picture of champions. (Mary Vance photo)

Returning home victorious from a two-week whirlwind trip to Norway for the largest youth soccer tournament in the world, the Santa Barbara United girls’ soccer players should be exhausted, right?

“We got home at 2:15 a.m. on Sunday (Aug. 3) and my daughter insisted on going to soccer camp Monday morning!” said Mary Vance, whose daughter, Caroline, was team captain for SBU.

The girls shut out competition at the Norway Cup as the only team to compete from the United States, winning the cup Aug. 1 in a 2-0 game against the Norwegian Hoybr/Stavn team.

Coach Eric Graf said the girls played at top speed the entire game.

“They were thoughtful and played a technically brilliant game, controlling the ball and completing series of passes to wear out and disrupt their competition,” he said.

The tournament drew more than 1,500 youth soccer teams from 45 countries. SBU competed in the youngest age bracket with girls age 12-14, playing seven tournament games in Oslo and outscoring their opponents 22-0.

“It was a mix of nervousness and a lot of adrenaline,” SBU defensive player Natalee Yamasaki, 13, said of stepping onto the field for their final game. “They were playing trumpets — it was really exciting.”

SBU operates under the umbrella of the American Youth Soccer Organization. The team consists of players from the Santa Barbara AYSO all-star team and recruited players from Santa Barbara Soccer Club, Real Santa Barbara Soccer Club and one player from Oxnard.

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After a scrimmage against Zimbabwe, rivals became friends over lunch and an impromptu cultural exchange. (Mary Vance photo)
“Not only were we able to find talented players, but these girls are some of the nicest you’ll ever meet,” said Graf, whose daughter, Erin, is on the team. “They moved forward as a group growing as a united team which was a force on the pitch.”

Goalkeeper Hannah Ball fiercely posted shutouts every game, supported by a strong defensive lineup — Megan Grajeda, Amber Holland, Caroline Vance and Natalee Yamasaki.

“I got pretty nervous when the ball passed the (defensive) line,” Ball, 13, said of the final game, which she says was the toughest. “It hadn’t happened yet, but when it did I just got into position.”

Jordan Corry, Gabrielle Goss, Sydney Read, Katarina Rocha and Une Solheim controlled the midfield. Tiana Bonn, Michelle Goss, Erin Graf and Adaezia Hill brought in goals on offense.

Aside from the competition, traveling to Norway had a deeper meaning for the players and their families. The team’s adventure began with homestays in Lillehammer. In pairs, the girls stayed with families who had daughters their age.

Graf says he “had hopes of these girls getting to realize how other girls the same age, and just like themselves, lived and had similar dreams, hopes and laughs.”

The girls scrimmaged with teams from Kenya, Norway, Palestine, Sweden and Zimbabwe, often exchanging pins from their respective home leagues.

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Santa Barbara United made the most of its golden opportunity in the Norway Cup. (Brit Svoen photo)
Adaezia Hill, 13, traveled with her grandmother, Melinda Staveley, who was an American Field Service exchange student in Norway more than 40 years ago.

“During the first two weeks we visited some of my high school buddies in Hamar (near Lillehammer), and they came to the tournament with both Norwegian and American flags,” said Staveley. “It was neat to share with Adaezia, because I was only three years older than she is when I was here.”

Adaezia was a valuable player for SBU on offense, scoring the only goal in the semi-final game against Sweden to advance the team to the finals.

SBU proudly brought home the two-foot-tall trophy, which Graf says he had securely between his legs the entire flight home from Oslo.

“I was worried it would get nicked or bent out of shape if it was in the luggage, or even in the overhead on the planes,” he said.

Traveling along with the girls were supportive parents and grandparents, who were thrilled to watch their daughters play the final match in front of 1,000 fans, many of them waving American and Norwegian flags.

“It was a mix of excitement and a lot of adrenaline,” said Yamasaki.

The immense honor was captured as the girls received their huge trophy, Michelle Goss was announced Most Valuable Player and team captain Caroline Vance was interviewed by a Norwegian television news program.

This is the second year SBU has traveled to Norway to compete in the cup, but the first year the team returned with a trophy. With a solid group of girls, hopes for participation again next year may depend on fundraising success. The cost is approximately $50,000.

“If the dollar continues to decline and our economy continues to suffer, it will be nearly impossible to return next year,” Graf said. “Norway is the most expensive place in the world right now.”

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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