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Tourney means soccer has arrived in W.Va.

Jul. 02, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Joan C. Edwards Stadium was buzzing with activity Thursday afternoon but it was futbol, not football, on everyone's mind.

Nearly 12,000 spectators and 4,500 players filed into the Marshall University stadium to welcome the US Youth Soccer Region I Championships back to the Tri-State.

For several local players, it might have been the second year of the tournament's opening ceremonies, but that didn't make it any less special.

"This is a big deal," said Robert Blair from Huntington, the goalkeeper for the U-16 Boys WVSC Elite Titans. "Friends and family all want us to do well, so we are not just playing for our teams. We are playing for them, too."

As the host state, the West Virginia teams led the parade of 15 state associations onto the field Thursday. Applause rang loud and cameras were in full force as 10 teams from the Mountain State made their way around the stadium.

In all, 251 teams from 13 states took part in the opening ceremonies for the tournament, which is in its final year of a two-year contract to be hosted by the Village of Barboursville and the West Virginia Soccer Association.

The crowd was treated to several different events including the 249th Army Rock Band, the Crossbar Competition (which the girls dominated) and a 5-on-5 mascot game where Little Caesar proved he could do more than make quick pizza.

It was a gala that Patrick Demoss, a defender for U-18 Boys WV Revolution, said he will remember forever as a turning point in West Virginia soccer history.

"I went to the regionals in Maine three years ago, and it was the first time I went," Demoss said. "I never expected it to get this big, and to have it in West Virginia, it's really an influence to be hosting and competing in it."

All eyes will be on the West Virginia teams as they try to advance through the tournament.

Last year, the only side to advance from the Mountain State was the U-12 Girls 8v8 WV Chaos team, led by their coach, former Marshall University women's soccer player Ashleigh Woods.

Woods said she was proud to represent the state last year, and is amazed at the growth of soccer in this area since she played for the Thundering Herd from 2001-04.

"Kids are starting to learn the game younger and younger and really good athletes are coming out to play," Woods said. "There have always been good athletes here in West Virginia. It's just been a matter of giving them the tools to be successful."

The tournament gets underway at 8 a.m.Friday when games kick off at the Barboursville Soccer Complex, located off of 4-H Camp Road, and Scott Orthopedic Soccer Complex at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center on W.Va. 2.

(u'nobuy',)