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Throughout its history, Wilson Youth Soccer Association has been instrumental in turning the city into a bonafide destination for the sport at the developmental level. With Gillette Soccer Complex as the facilities and training backbone, the club holds the annual Summer Explosion Cup and regularly competes against North Carolina teams in league play.
But WYSA’s latest groundbreaking achievement will have it matching up against foes beyond the borders of the Tar Heel State.
Buoyed by a 2-1 record in December qualifying, the WYSA U13 girls have earned a spot in the U.S. Youth Soccer National League Piedmont Conference, becoming the first WYSA team to do so. The season will run from the beginning of February through April, giving WYSA a pathway to qualify for regional championships and what is commonly referred to as the National League, the elite tier of U.S. youth soccer which has made previous weekend stops at Gillette.
The National League conferences, one step below the National League, replaced the previous regional leagues after the 2017-18 season. WYSA, competing in the Piedmont Conference, will be going up against clubs from South Carolina and north and central Georgia, in addition to qualified teams from North Carolina. Each of the 13 National League conferences has their own method of determining advancement to the regional championships, and then, the top-tier National League.
“It’s a very significant achievement,” U13 coach Thomas Goines, also the head women’s soccer coach at Barton College, said. “It’s the first team in the club’s history to make it to this level. They’re not just playing against North Carolina opponents; this is a high-end league that’s going to provide the girls competition.”
To earn the spot in the Piedmont Conference, WYSA was one of four teams that advanced out of qualifying the weekend of Dec. 15-16 at WRAL Soccer Complex in Raleigh. Playing in a 12-team playoff event divided into three groups of four, WYSA advanced into the Piedmont Conference by placing second in its group behind Charlotte Soccer Academy South Elite. WYSA was the only second-place team in the playoffs to win two matches, giving it six points and sending it through. Two wins on Dec. 15 over Lake Norman Soccer Club Eclipse Elite (3-0) and Triangle United Soccer Association Gold (2-1) gave WYSA all the ammo it would need to qualify, despite losing 1-0 to group winner Charlotte the next day.
Goines, who is also the director of the girls academy for WYSA, has a daughter in the program, Mikayla, who attends Greenfield School.
“This is kind of my break in what I do, watching kids develop,” Goines said of his WYSA responsibilities. “Coaching college is highly intensive. When you get to coach club, you’re helping younger players develop.”
Indeed, development has been a hallmark for WYSA, which with the inclusion of the U13 girls, have had four teams attain Premier status in its history.
“WYSA is very proud of this team,” WYSA Executive Director Richard Frazier said. “Through dedication, hard work and great coaching this team has set the bar for other WYSA teams. With a majority of these girls coming through our youth development academy is a positive sign that WYSA and its commitment to youth development is working.”
That commitment has allowed Wilson to hold its own against bigger metro areas, building a respectable brand statewide in the process.
“Wilson has a strong soccer tradition,” WYSA Vice President Steve Barry said. “We may be small, but we are mighty.”