A repeat national championship for the Eclipse Select 16-and-under girls soccer team wasn’t exactly resting on Becky Koch’s shoulders. It was more like her head.
Koch, a junior at Cary-Grove, won an Elite Club National League national championship in 2013 with the Eclipse and made it back-too-back titles July 13 to 17 in Richmond, Virginia.
But the team almost didn’t even make it to the national tournament.
At a qualifying tournament in June in Redmond, Washington, the Eclipse needed a tie against the Crossfire Premier team from Oregon to make it to the national finals.
Against Crossfire, Koch’s team scored first with a second-half goal, but gave up two goals to be down, 2-1, late in the game. Koch said she was thinking that her team might not even qualify for nationals, much less win it.
“We were that close to not going,” Koch said.
After regulation, three minutes of stoppage time was added. With that time just about exhausted, Eclipse got a corner kick.
Koch, a Cary resident, moved up from her defensive position and headed in the tying goal.
“I was confident that I could get this one in, but it had to be a perfect serve,” Koch said. “When it was in the air I could see it coming to me. I don’t know how I jumped that high.”
Despite the thrill of getting back to the finals, Koch felt for her opponents.
“It really [wasn’t fair] because [Crossfire] was the best team we ever played,” Koch said. “They should have gotten to Virginia (also).”
Eclipse coach Rory Dames said he had recently put Koch back in to receive corner kicks. He had not been using her because of the effort it took to get up in the box from her defensive position.
“It’s a long run,” Dames said. “We get a lot of corner kicks.”
It wasn’t an easy decision because Koch is his best option in the box on set plays.
“It’s a huge help,” Dames said of having Koch on set plays. “She’s very good out of the air.”
Qualifying for nationals was a stretch even for the defending national champions. Three players tore ACLs early in the season, and the team was ranked 10th heading into the playoffs.
“We didn’t really have a good season," Koch said. "When it came to nationals we stepped it up again."
At Richmond, Koch’s teamed rolled to a 3-1 win against the San Diego Surf and followed that with a 1-0 win against Real Colorado, the No. 2-ranked team. The two wins qualified Eclipse for the championship even before the third pool game.
With nothing on the line, Eclipse dropped their third pool game, 2-1, to PDA from New Jersey.
In the championship, Eclipse beat the Dallas Texans, 3-1. After a scoreless first half, Eclipse got things going in the second half.
“We always play better in the second half,” Koch said. “We’ve been down so many games in the second half.”
Coming into the playoffs, Koch said she knew it would be tough repeating as national champions.
“We had a target on our backs,” Koch said. “It’s very easy to lose when you’re in that position. It’s easier to climb the mountain than to stay there.”
Even so, losing would not have been easy to accept.
“It would have been horrible,” Koch said.
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.