GJ Fire FC Premier U13 team hoping to show it belongs in Far West Regionals
The Grand Junction Fire FC Premier U13 girls soccer team made history by making it to this point of the season.
The Fire became the first team west of C-470 to make the Far West Regionals, opening the weeklong tournament Monday in Albuquerque, N.M., with a 3-2 loss to Leahi 97 Premier of Hawaii.
“We are playing to find out who’s the best in the West,” Fire coach Alex Chaffetz said. “It’s not going to be easy, every game is against a state champion.”
The Far West Regional is set up similar to the World Cup, with the 12 teams separated into three flights. The top two teams advance out of preliminary play, which ends Wednesday.
After a day off Thursday, the advancing teams go to the quarterfinal round. The championship games are on Sunday.
Along with Hawaii, the Fire has Avalanche 97 Black from Utah and Rio Vista FC ZIA 97 from New Mexico in their flight.
“We expect every game to be as tough of a game as we’ve played,” Chaffetz said. “But it’s exciting because we’ll be the first team from Grand Junction to show up at a Far West Regional.”
The Fire reached this point by upsetting Nike Rush 1-0 in late May to win the Colorado State Cup championship.
The excitement of winning state still hasn’t died for the team, in part because the Fire have had the goal of winning the state title for such a long time.
“I don’t think we’ve come down from the high of winning a state championship,” Chaffetz said. “But we also realize that there is tough competition ahead and the girls have been working extremely hard over the past couple of weeks to (prepare).”
In addition to the Fire’s flight, there are two other flights that include state champions from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Arizona, Nevada and Alaska. California has two representatives as the Mustang Mavericks won the Northern California title, and the San Diego Surf White won the Southern California crown.
“We want to show what we can do, and that we are good,” Fire defender Audrey Rose Kachin said. “We are the underdogs, they won’t know where we are from, but I think we’ll do fine and we’ll have a lot of fun.”
Chaffetz said many of the teams in the tournament are either returning from previous years or are a part of established club programs. Experience is the one area he knows the Fire will be lacking.
“I think experience is going to play into this. We’ve never been to any of these tournaments, and for the most part, most of the teams are returning from the previous season,” Chaffetz said. “So I’m a little concerned that we won’t have the experience the other teams do, but on the other hand, we are used to traveling and competing on a high level.”
Regardless of experience, the Fire has proven they have more than enough talent to compete with anyone.
Up front, forwards Leah Swander, Courtney Barger, Shelby Kenney and Courtney Coffey pace the Fire.
The midfield is anchored by Samantha Melchor, Karly Malott, Baseley McClaskey, Taylor Chaffetz and Caylee Pinchak.
Defensively, the Fire has Sarah Benton, Taylor Wood, Kachin, Teresa Giandonato and Mackenzie King protecting goalie Elie Borszich.
“It’s going to be tough, really tough,” Kachin said. “But if we play our game, if we work hard and don’t let the heat get to us, we can do it.”