OXFORD, Ohio – After helping the Miami University women’s soccer team capture both the Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament championships last year as a freshman, Katie Mazurek decided that two championships were not enough for her rookie campaign. So following the completion of her freshman year, she rejoined her club team, the Ohio Premier Eagles, for the summer and led them to an Elite Club National League (ECNL) U-18 national championship.
“We weren’t expecting it,” Mazurek said of winning the title. “Obviously we train hard to get to that point but no one actually thought it was a reality that we would be playing for the national championship. So as we kept winning our games, each game was more pressure to win to get to the final and it just got so exciting, and we realized it was real after we won the semis. After we won (the whole thing) it was just unreal. I think we stayed on the field an hour and a half after we won taking pictures and stuff.”
The 16-team ECNL tournament began June 21, when the Eagles out-dueled the Dallas Sting, 3-2, before edging Real So Cal in the quarterfinals, 2-1, June 22. Just getting to the championship game was no easy task as the Eagles had to get by the two-time defending champion CASL Chelsea Ladies in the semifinals in a game that was halted on June 23 due to stormy weather and completed the next morning – the same day as the championship match. After closing out the win over CASL early on the morning of June 24, Ohio Premier regrouped a few hours later to take down heavily favored Colorado Rush – in their home state no less (Aurora, Colo.) – 1-0 to claim the national title.
The Rush featured three girls that played on the U.S. U-18 National Team, but the Eagles had both chemistry and history on their side. The win in the final over Colorado improved Ohio Premier’s record to 4-0 against the Rush, having never lost to them previously.
“I think it was just our play versus their play. I think we’re just a lot more team-oriented. They have a lot of really good individual players, I think ours just over powered theirs,” Mazurek noted. “They were stacked individually but they didn’t really play together and I think that was their biggest detriment.”
Mazurek, who played in 21 games for Miami last year, but mostly in the midfield, anchored the Eagles’ defense during their run to the title playing centerback. Despite the adjustment in position, she helped pitch a shutout in the championship game.
Scoring the winning (and only) goal for the Eagles against Colorado was Alexis Milesky, who will go from Mazurek’s longtime teammate on Ohio Premier, to rival this fall when she will start her collegiate career as an Ohio Bobcat. Assisting on the goal was another future rival of Mazurek in Brooke Maletic, who will be a freshman at Toledo this fall. Mazurek, who is a year ahead of most of her club teammates, has been playing on the same club team, with mostly the same teammates, since she was nine years old.
“I know how competitive it is between the MAC teams and they haven’t really experienced it yet, so there’s no hostility because we’ve been on the same side of the field our whole lives,” Mazurek said of her Eagle teammates who will be going to MAC schools in the fall. “We’ve never played against each other, but when we get on the field next year I’m sure it will be a little different.”
Although she served as a leader on the pitch and has a year of collegiate experience under her belt, Mazurek said she didn’t share any advice with her Eagle teammates who will be heading off to college. Along with Milesky and Maletic, Ohio Premier will be sending girls to Ohio State, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Clemson, among other schools.
While the Eagles will be splitting up to play collegiately this fall, it took a lot of work to even qualify for the ECNL National Championships. The league is divided up into 16 regions with the winner of each region earning a trip to Aurora. Ohio Premier is in the Mid-Atlantic Conference, along with seven other teams. During the spring, the Eagles played against the other teams in their region, though Mazurek missed several of the matches due to the fact that she was still in school. Even without her services for some of the season, Ohio Premier was able to win its region and earn the No. 2 seed for the national tournament.
Nationals weren’t the first time the Eagles had played in Aurora however, as they played in a tournament there a few years ago. This time around was a bit different though.
“It’s different because you have to go out a couple days early to get acclimated to the altitude, so we got a practice in and got used to it which really helped,” Mazurek said. “It was really fun because there’s a lot of fun stuff to see and do out there when you’re not playing soccer. If it’s a game day we are just chilling out, but the couple days we got there early we went to El Dorado Canyon, saw the mountains and we went to Boulder one day.”
The teams competing in the ECNL are the top club teams in the country. And it’s not just the team that has to earn a spot in the ECNL, the entire club has to participate in the ECNL, meaning all the Ohio Premier teams (U-15, U-16, etc.) have to be good enough to withstand the toughness of the league.
“If you’re in the ECNL you’re legit. Your club has to earn its way into the league, it’s not a fluke,” Mazurek stated. “It sets itself apart from the USYSA (U.S. Youth Soccer Association) because teams that are joining ECNL are dropping out of that league – they’re losing all the good clubs to ECNL.”
The ECNL also holds other national tournaments throughout the year from California to Florida where club teams get to face teams from outside their region. And having played a different position than what she played at Miami last year, Mazurek feels she’s ready for an even better sophomore campaign.
“I felt really strong at center back so hopefully it will give me some good diversity on the field this year at Miami,” said the Dublin, Ohio, native. “I think it added another aspect to my game, getting refreshed into a new position. It was a lot of training leading up to the tournament so obviously I’m faster and stronger than I started.”
When the RedHawks open the season Aug. 23 at Illinois State, Mazurek will be much more comfortable now that she’s already played at Miami for a year.
“I was so nervous last year coming in. You’re more worried about making friends on the team and worrying about if people will like you and now that that’s all out of the way,” she said. “It’s going to be more about how can I help the team the most, and how can I make myself the best player I can be.”
With her club team’s success this summer and her success as a RedHawk freshman, Mazurek certainly seems primed to keep her streak of championships going this fall.