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Olivia Darnell of the 17-and-under Columbus Express girls soccer team passes the ball down field during practice Tuesday at the Richard Wigh Soccer Complex in Columbus. The team will participate in the President%u2019s Cup Region II Championships starting today in Overland Park, Kan. PHOTO BY ANDREW LAKER
Rachel Amlung and Malissa Hofmeister spend fall days as foes, bumping shin pads as members of the Columbus East and Columbus North soccer teams, respectively.
On Wednesday, Amlung and Hofmeister rolled with a caravan for eight hours to their destination of Overland Park, Kan., to prepare for today’s first game in the President’s Cup Region II Championships.
Win four games, and the local 17-and-under Columbus Express team composed of East, North, Jennings County and Seymour players will head to California for a shot at a national title.
The ideal prize would be a ticket to the West Coast.
“We’re kind of excited to go to Kansas,” Amlung said. “But we’re like, ‘Win Kansas, and let’s go to California.’”
The Express team, coached by Cummins Inc. employee Ann Schmelzer, qualified for this weekend’s regional after placing second in the President Cup state tourney in Indianapolis. Susanna Hermann scored two goals, and Amlung netted one in a 4-3 loss to the Fort Wayne Sports Club.
Schmelzer, who began coaching the team in January, said she inherited a ball-savvy group with no fear of attacking.
“They’re an amazing finesse team,” Schmelzer said. “You don’t see as often in girls soccer players that really want to dribble and really want to be on the ball, and this team definitely does.”
Amlung, who racked up 14 goals for a 17-2 East team in the fall, is up to similar tricks this summer, leading the Express in scoring. East’s Spencer Eudy is the goalkeeper.
“It’s kind of a mixture, but it’s mainly East (players),” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister said she had no choice when choosing what local school to attend in town. She grew up four blocks from North. It was part of the neighborhood.
Hofmeister and the Bull Dogs have done quite well for themselves the past two fall soccer seasons, placing second in the state in 2011 and reaching the semistate finals in 2012. Gabby Sims and a trio of 15-year-olds — Claire Chambers, LauraAnn Watanabe and Emma Risley — are the only other players from North on the Express 17-and-under squad.
Amlung, meanwhile, said she chose to go to East partly because of the friendships she gained through Express soccer. Olivia Darnell, Hayden Lang and Samantha Watters are other Olympians on the Express squad.
The team captain, Sydney Newell from East, suffered a foot injury earlier in the season.
Despite wearing different colors during different seasons, the Express players seem to mesh well, according to Schmelzer.
“I would be interested to hear their answer,” she said. “From a coaching perspective, it was a smooth transition. I thought it was particularly smooth how quickly they all got integrated.”
The Express will play in a five-team field with squads from Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. Each team plays the others once in pool play, and the two with the best records meet in Sunday’s championship.
Neither coach nor players admitted to knowing much about the competition awaiting them this weekend. But that’s OK, Schmelzer said.
“I think we’re well-positioned to do well,” Schmelzer said. “It’s a solid group of kids.”
If the Express win Sunday’s title game, they’ll play in July’s Presidents Cup Nationals in Sacramento, Calif.
Though they may be kicking at each other in the fall, the Express players are kicking it together this spring and cruising into this summer.
“We like (staying in) hotels. Team bonding,” Amlung said. “This weekend’s going to be competitive. We’ll have fun with it.”
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