Wittkop ready to travel to Florida for soccer championships

Monday, July 11, 2022
(Photo Contributed) Zoe Wittkop with the finalist plaque after the Dakota Alliance Soccer Club of which she is a member qualified for the US Youth Soccer National Championships.

LE MARS — Zoe Wittkop has a big trip ahead of her later this month. The Le Mars soccer player will be making the trip to Florida to compete in the US Youth Soccer National Championships along with her teammates from the Dakota Alliance Soccer Club 16U team.

Wittkop said it’s a special opportunity to be able to compete against some of the top teams from across the country from July 19-24 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

“This is a big opportunity and it could be like a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Wittkop said.

Team qualifies in Indiana

The Dakota Alliance Soccer Club traveled to Westfield, Indiana, an outlying suburb of Indianapolis, for their Midwest Regional Championships from June 24-29.

A total of 16 teams qualify for the Midwest Regional. Previous sites for the regional event have included Des Moines and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The 16 regional qualifying teams were split into four pods of four teams each. The teams played everyone in their group once with the top team from each group advancing to the knockout stage.

The Dakota Alliance team opened with a 3-1 win over KC Athletics Academy Premier out of Kansas. The next day the team ended their contest with Michigan Rush Northville with a 0-0 draw. In the final game of pool play, the team won 3-0 over a team from Kentucky to finish 2-0-1 in their pool which advanced them to the semifinals.

The team faced Boreal Green from Minnesota in the semifinal round. That game was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, but Dakota Alliance scored two goals in overtime to clinch the win.

The team advanced to the finals where they faced team from Chicago. While they lost by a 4-1 score in that match, the Chicago Inter 2006 Red team had already earned a spot at Nationals which allowed Dakota Alliance to advance as well.

“Our team has been playing really well. We put it all together during regionals and won our games to get to nationals,” Wittkop said. “It was a really nice feeling.”

The qualification makes this Dakota Alliance team the first from South Dakota to advance to the National Championship stage.

Playing soccer for a long time

Wittkop has been playing soccer from a young age, beginning right here in Le Mars with the YMCA youth program.

“I started at Y soccer in Le Mars and then I joined a team in Sioux Center and it was a boys team in Sioux Center, and their siblings told me I should go down to Sioux City,” Wittkop said. “So then I went down to Sioux City and I started playing soccer with girls and then just went from there.”

She has played in several leagues throughout the years before eventually finding her way to Sioux Falls. She is about an hour and a half away from Sioux Falls, so she is the furthest away from a team which draws most of its players from the area right around Sioux Falls.

“Everybody else is basically in Sioux Falls or Harrisburg or Brandon, around there, so yeah, I’m the farthest one,” Wittkop said.

Wittkop said her role on the team is as one of the forwards.

“I can either play center-forward or right-forward,” Wittkop said. “Usually the defense or mid passes to me and I try to makes some moves or create other passes to my teammates to score a goal.”

Building soccer in Le Mars

Wittkop was one of the top players for Le Mars Community as they began their first high school varsity season this spring. She had 13 goals for the Bulldogs, nearly half of the team’s 28 on the year. The Bulldogs ended their season with a regional final appearance.

“The varsity season went great,” Wittkop said. “We ended up with a winning record and we made it substate. Hopefully this will start building soccer starting with younger kids and then getting to middle school and high school.”

She was named to the Second Team of the Missouri River Activities Conference as a midfielder, becoming the first player in school history to be named an All-Conference player in girls soccer.

After finishing her sophomore season for the Bulldogs this year, she hopes she can help to continue to grow the sport in Le Mars.

“I know the boys soccer team had a youth camp and I think the girls soccer team, we should try to organize a camp next year to see if younger girls want to play soccer, get them interested and hopefully they want to continue the game,” Wittkop said.

Florida-bound

The Dakota Alliance team will join 15 other teams in their age division from across the country to compete for the Mavis Derflinger Cup which goes to the 16-and-under girls National Championship team.

The US Youth Soccer National Championships cap a yearlong series of competitions for teams in multiple age brackets. Teams earn their way from the top teams in their state to the regional championship tournaments.

According to their website, the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series is the country’s most prestigious national youth soccer tournament, providing approximately 185,000 players on more than 10,000 teams from US Youth Soccer State Associations the opportunity to showcase their soccer skills against the best competition in the nation while emphasizing teamwork, discipline and fair play.

Wittkop said she is looking forward to making the most of the experience in Florida.

“I’m looking forward to having fun and playing well as a team and hopefully winning some games and advancing,” Wittkop said.

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