EDMOND — Over the last week, 208 soccer teams have participated in the U.S. Youth Region III Championships at the Edmond Soccer Club Complex. An estimated 3,600 players competed for the 14 championships available at the event.
Boys and girls ranging from age 13 to 19 played their best soccer in front of an estimated 12,000 spectators at the Region III Championships. Spectators weren't the only people watching the games, however.
About 200 college coaches were also in attendance. Coaches from conferences ranging from the Horizon League to the Big 12 watched players who were already committed to their schools, evaluated players they were interested in recruiting and occasionally marked down younger players to keep an eye on for the future.
Events like this not only provide increased exposure for the players, but they also show coaches which players perform the best in a highly competitive setting.
“What I really like about regionals is you always get the kids' best effort,” OSU women's assistant coach Karen Hancock said. “They understand they're playing elimination games, they're playing to advance, and playing for a championship and privilege to go on to the national tournament. And because of that, there's a little bit more on the line, and the kids play like there's a little bit more on the line, and I appreciate that as a college coach.”
Hancock has watched kids play at showcases, but said she feels the intensity increases in a tournament format like the regionals.
Hancock has spent the last week observing and evaluating players from different states. Not only did she take note of older players closer to graduating high school, but she also looked at players from younger age groups as well.
“Just get an initial (of) maybe who stands out,” Hancock said. “It's certainly not the end product — kids are still very young at that age and a lot of developing will still occur — but I like to see what is out there, and what is up and coming.”
Of the 208 teams competing in the Region III Championships, at least 19 were from Oklahoma. Mike Cook, the women's coach for the University of Central Oklahoma, said the championships were not only good for showing the talent within the state, but also showing the state's growing culture of soccer.
“It's great for the state, it's great for our city, (and) it's good for people to see that the talent of Oklahoma is as good as other states (talent),” Cook said. “It says a lot for the Edmond Soccer Club and the soccer here in Oklahoma that they think enough of us to have the Regionals here.
“Most coaches like to stick to regional tournaments, within the region that they play in, because those are the players that are probably going to come to their schools. … So (we're) trying to find players, that you see here, that might come to Oklahoma; that's always a good thing. But I like to really stick to watching a lot of the Oklahoma teams play. We're a state school, and we like to support our state.”
The regionals were last held in Oklahoma in 1999.
Soccer culture within Oklahoma City and the surrounding areas has changed dramatically in just the last year. On Feb. 14, Oklahoma City was awarded a Premier Developmental League franchise, and a few weeks ago, it was announced that a North American Soccer League team is coming to the city for 2014.
Cook said the culture was strong when he arrived in Oklahoma in 1983, but he has seen it improve over the years.
“Soccer's been very big,” Cook said. “It's been good and strong, but its definitely gotten stronger. It's gotten a lot better. We've got a lot more kids in Oklahoma going to different places all across the country to play, so the soccer level here in Oklahoma is very, very strong.”