2018 Arizona President’s Cup

As it stands, the tournament win is the largest accomplishment to date by the team.

Special to AFN

A local high school soccer club with ties throughout Ahwatukee and the East Valley is getting ready to play in Salt Lake City next month in the 2018 US Soccer Far West Regional President’s Cup and eyeing national finals.

Phoenix Premier FC 02 Black is a collection of 15-16-year-old girls that includes several top players from some of the state’s best high school programs, including Desert Vista, Mountain Pointe and Chandler high schools.

The team won the 2018 Arizona President’s Cup, one of the state’s elite soccer tournaments, in early April after overtime victories in both the semifinal and final rounds on consecutive days.

As it stands, the tournament win is the largest accomplishment to date by the team.

“It was a really big deal. We were practicing for so long. When we play tournaments, we always come out and are in the final. But until this season we weren’t able to finish, so it was awesome for our team to win a major tournament. I’ve never seen the team so happy,” said starting goalkeeper Jacqueline Risch, a sophomore at Chandler Preparatory Academy.

Coach Ramiz Sabljic, who has experience with the USA Paralympic team, Scottsdale Community College and other high-level programs, said there were struggles early in the season, with players forcing themselves to get over high school season rivalries and playing in different positions than they were used to.

But the team’s chemistry began gelling at the right time, and Sabjlic said he is confident the girls could see real success at the regional tournament.

“We went through some hard times, especially some difficulty scoring, and some real lows, but the mentality is there, and they have sacrificed so much to get to this point. I think they’re ready,” he said.

The Utah competition will feature teams from Utah, New Mexico, Hawaii, Colorado and Nevada, presenting a chance for the girls to test their skills against some of the region’s best programs.

However, the tournament June 12-17 also gives the team an opportunity to bond more.

“It’s about having a week together and sharing rooms and all the other activities that go along with it. Most of the time it’s only a game a day, whereas we usually play at least two a day. So now they have more time and they can organize team activities and they’re really excited about all that,” said team manager Tanis Aiken-Smith of Ahwatukee.

 “They’re all so excited to pick out who they’re going to stay with and having fun in the hotel together,” Aiken-Smith added.

Perhaps more important than the result of the regional tournament, though, is the exposure the club gets to recruit future quality athletes.

Sabljic is also the coaching director for Phoenix Premier FC, and the 02 Girls Black squad is just one of over 40 club and competitive teams of boys and girls of various ages in the area.

With tangible success as a recruiting tool, Sabljic said he hopes that his club – which is also sending two other teams as representatives to regionals – can utilize the experience as a stepping stone for future success of the entire organization.

“In youth soccer, everybody loves a winner. People club-hop always with changing trophies, so hopefully with the success on the field, we’ll have better turnouts,” he said. “Already, with tryouts for some of our younger teams we’ve had more in years past, so hopefully all that translates to more numbers and quality of players coming out.”

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