BILLINGS — Girls soccer is pretty darn good in Montana, and the Billings United U19 club team proved that on Monday by winning the U.S. Youth Soccer President's Cup national championship in Wichita, Kansas.
"A lot of it is just playing against each other in high school season. Obviously, we're head-to-head during the season, but once we play with each other we get in a rhythm and kind of know how each other plays," said Satory Taylor of Billings West.
"We have a lot of talent on our team and it's easy to recognize that, so most of us are pretty comfortable with sharing the spotlight and letting others have their turn just because we trust each other and know what each other are capable of," said goalie Maria Ackerman.
All that talent is widespread, too. Players hail from five schools in Yellowstone County (Billings West, Billings Senior, Billings Skyview, Billings Central and Laurel), as well as Bozeman and Helena.
While they all shared the spotlight, Ackerman was perhaps the brightest star on the weekend. Her heroics in a penalty shootout allowed Billings to hoist the trophy, as she saved three of the kicks against her, not to mention another earlier in the game.
“We missed our first penalty kick, so whenever you miss the first one it adds a little more to it. It feels like you're playing catch-up in the event," head coach Abiye Jack said. "Our goalkeeper did a great job to save three, which is crazy. There's a lot of goalkeepers that go their entire career without saving a penalty kick, and Maria saved three in one shootout."
“I've been on both ends of the outcome of PK shootouts. I've won some and I've lost some. It's nerve-wracking, but it's fun," Ackerman said. "I have to believe in myself and trust my teammates that they're going to score and I have to believe that I can save some. It seems very individual, but in all it's a team sport and we've got each other there."
It was a grind to even get to the title game on Monday, as the heat and humidity began to take its toll throughout the weekend.
“We really focused on our recovery. When we'd leave the fields, half the team would be covered in ice. I think some people took it as us being hurt, but most of us know how to properly recover," Ackerman said. "We focused on our diet and what we were eating. We didn't really do much while we were there. We just ate, slept and played soccer."
While the big trophy will stay at USYS headquarters, Billings United will bring back a smaller version to display in its offices.