The Savannah United 2002 girls team claimed first place in the Disney College Showcase at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla.
Local athletes Ella Grace Higdon (South Effingham), Bailee Hildebrandt (Effingham County) and Megan Zeldenrust (Effingham County) contributed to the squad's 3-0 record over the Thanksgiving weekend.
"Coming in first at the Disney Showcase meant a lot for me and for our team and club," Higdon said. "Placing first against some of the best teams in the country boosted my confidence and allowed me to believe that my team and I can compete with the best of the best."
"Coming in first for our division at Disney was just like any other win to first place," Zeldenrust said. "It is a rush of excitement and adrenaline to know that we came to compete in front of college coaches and were able to show them that we were the best in our division. No matter how small the win, it’s always a great feeling to know you competed well."
But the win was more than just another victory under their belt. Hildebrandt said it felt good to put Savannah on the map in a positive way.
"Competing in the Disney Showcase was something huge not just for me but my entire team," she said. "We have always been seen as a 'little Savannah team' by everyone and to prove that we were so much more than that was the goal this year."
Savannah United took down West Ottowa SC Showcase of Canada 4-3, Penn FC United (Pennsylvania) 3-0 and FCUSA Massachusetts NPL Premier 2-1. A lot of preparation went into their undefeated streak and the time they spent together leading up the tournament paid off.
"Leading up to the showcase we focused a lot on team bonding," Hildebrandt said. "We went to dinner together, went to practice, and had fun things to do together. We really zoned in on making ourselves closer together rather than just focusing on soccer. I believe that is what set us apart from everyone else. We all cared so much and wanted to win for each other, rather than just ourselves."
"Our team trained the week leading up to the showcase and we competed in a local Savannah tournament the weekend before to try out some different tactics in preparation for the weekend," Zeldenrust said. "It was important for us to get together as a team so we are all on the same page leading into the Disney weekend."
Nearly 40 coaches poured in to take in the event but, even with the eyes of college scouts on it, the team wasn't intimidated. In fact, it was just the motivation the players needed.
"I knew a lot about the showcase before hand because our Savannah United team has played in this specific showcase before," Higdon said. "This showcase is something I have always been interested in because it allows me to perform at the highest level of soccer with the best teams to show colleges the skill I have as an individual to continue playing during my years at college."
Hildebrandt said she is comfortable going into tournaments without any prior knowledge of the team she'll be competing against. For her, it's simply a matter of bringing her A-game.
"Looking into tournaments and teams we play has never been something I've been into," she said. "I like to go into games and tournaments knowing that all I have to do is play my hardest, and if we win or not I know I did everything I could."