Teenagers from Utah don't win national soccer tournaments. Those things are traditionally reserved for kids from huge states like Texas and California. In January of '99, five girls from Utah deviated from that norm and won a national 3-on-3 tourney in Florida.
Even though some may have been surprised by the winners' home state, they shouldn't have been. The Utah kids were a talented quintet that easily defeated Michigan 10-2 in the finals.
As sophomores the following fall, all five started for their respective high school teams, with three of them rounding out the season by playing for state championships. Now a year later, as juniors, their teams are region contenders again, and they're all members of the state Olympic Developmental Teams.
A year from now they'll all be pondering which Division I soccer programs' scholarship offers to accept.
The five prep stars highlighting the class of 2001 are: Brighton's Liz Bogus and Carlie Ashcraft, Skyline's Whitney Fenton, Taylorsville's Stephanie Ebner and Bountiful's Rachel Schwab.
"They've played together for many years and trained together for years," said Gordon Ebner, Stephanie's father, who's also coached all five girls over the years. "It's kind of funny, these same kids were always the ones in the youth soccer schools together. And it's pretty obvious they are the ones succeeding now."
Perhaps no one knows more about the girls' strengths than Ebner. In June, he took a boys and girls Utah ODP team to Holland and Belgium to compete in the Phinx Trophy Tournament in which the girls took first and boys took second.
The girls squad, featuring the five 3-on-3 winners, went 5-0 and only allowed one goal.
"They were definitely the queens of the tournament," said Ebner, who added that whenever Utah played, the field was surrounded by energetic fans
Stephanie Ebner was named the tournament's MVP. Schwab had the pleasure of being the team's captain. In addition to her regular captain duties, she paraded the U.S. flag onto the field before matches.
"It was a total rush," she said.
The trip to Europe came shortly after the state cup, a club team tournament. The trio of Bogus, Ashcraft and Fenton all helped the Firebirds win their division, edging Schwab's UFC team. Ebner plays a level up, and her team also won the state cup.
The girls have played together so long, they know each others' idiosyncrasies almost as well as their own. This makes for some intense match-ups, yet friendly ones at the same time.
"You're serious on the field, but after the game you're hugging," Schwab said. "It's great."
The rivalries are always a little more friendly in high school games, because the environment is much more relaxing than in club soccer. With a state championship at stake, sure the girls still want to win, but in club, winning gets you more exposure. And in the long run, regional tournaments are where college coaches do their scouting.
"Some of the people who do really well in high school don't do as well in club because the competition is better," said Stephanie Ebner. "High school is more fun. Like with my high school, we're not expected to do much, so we can just have fun."
Already this year, a few of the girls have had fun playing against each other. Two weeks ago, Bogus and Ashcraft's Brighton side played Fenton's Skyline squad in a preseason game. Skyline prevailed 2-1 giving Fenton bragging rights until the next meeting.
"It's fun to play against each other. (Whitney) and I play the same positions, too, so we're marked up against each other," said Ashcraft. "We both go at it as hard as we can."
Brighton, Skyline and Taylorsville are all in 5A, but all in different regions, so if there's any more friendly games this year, they'll have to wait until the state tournament.
As for Schwab, her Bountiful team competes in 4A, and while she'd love the chance to play against her world-traveling buddies more often, she acknowledges that playing arch-rival East more than makes up for it.
Some of the girls may end up playing college soccer together, but most likely they'll embark on different college adventures when they graduate from high school in June of 2002. When that time does arise, communication will obviously be limited, but no doubt they'll keep tabs on each other.
When you've spent that much time together, it's just a natural occurrence.
"I consider them four of my best friends because we've been through so much," said Schwab. "It's fun how relationships grow through soccer."