In a city renowned for its Friday nights in Alex Box Stadium and its Saturday evenings in Death Valley, a collection of soccer fields on Burbank Drive will be the focal point over the next two weeks in Baton Rouge.
When the Burbank Soccer Club hosts the 2014 U.S. Youth Soccer Region III Championships beginning on June 20, two Baton Rouge squads will be among the more than 200 teams that will venture to Louisiana from all corners of the South.
This experience will be a first for the 96 Alliance, an under-18 girls team based both at the Baton Rouge Soccer Club (BRSC) and the Cajun Soccer Club (CSC) in Lafayette.
The 96 Alliance is the first girls team at the CSC to win the Regional Premier League Central, and after proving victorious at the State Cup, it locked in its bracket spot for this week’s championship tournament.
Being a member of the 96 Alliance is no easy task, though.
One portion of the team’s roster is based in Baton Rouge, while the other primarily stems from the Lafayette area. Because of this hour-long distance, the squad splits up its practice regiment, training one day in Lafayette, one day in Baton Rouge, and one day at each player’s home site.
Dave Lapeyrouse, the team’s CSC coach in Lafayette, said it isn’t difficult creating team chemistry with the distance, largely because many of the girls have moved up through the age groups playing on the same rosters.
His 96 Alliance members understand what it costs to be successful in their respective region.
“From Day One, they’ve all gotten along because you’re putting players together that all have a common goal,” Lapeyrouse said. “They understand and are willing to sacrifice social things to play on this type of team. They buy in.”
Willie Davis, the team’s BRSC coach in Baton Rouge, has spent the last few weeks running practices in a similar style to a college soccer preseason.
Davis coached at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., and won a National Championship before moving to LSU as a part-time assistant for a year-and-a-half. Davis said mental preparation was a massive factor at the college level, and he has tried to instill those same lessons he learned into his players on 96 Alliance.
Starting with their first game on Friday morning, the 96 Alliance will get the chance to play on the stage it has worked toward all season long.
“Three years ago, none of these girls had ever won a State Championship,” Davis said. “They had never won anything big like that. We labored, we put in the work, and we did things that they didn’t want to do or they didn’t agree with me on. [Getting here is] really great for the kids, and it gives them great recognition.”
BRSC 00 Black under-14 boys team to play in its own backyard
While teams from around the southern U.S. will take road trips and stay overnight in hotels scattered throughout the city, the BRSC OO Black under-14 boys players will get to sleep in their own beds for the duration of the Region III Championships.
That, plus the players will be competing on the same fields they regularly practice and hold contests on throughout the season. The 00 Black played 15 of their 47 season games at the Burbank Soccer Club.
The team’s manager, Christopher Fetters, said playing at the Baton Rouge facility gives the 00 Black a number of advantages, most notably the climate.
“They’re used to the temperature and the humidity,” Fetters said. “You’ve got teams coming from the South, but the humidity in North Carolina, Tennessee and northern Mississippi is different than it is down here.”
The 00 Black has won 11 of its final 14 games heading into the Region III Championships, including three straight 1-0 victories to close out the season.
Brett Malone, the team’s coach, said his team doesn’t need a potent offensive attack to be effective.
“When they started having a lot of success toward the end of the season, we changed up our playing style a bit and became a more direct team,” Malone said. “We didn’t lose a game in league play, and in the State Cup they only allowed one goal. This team is based on its defense.”
The 00 Black will play its first game on Friday, June 20 at 4 p.m.