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Tournament Notebook: East Coast rivalry will write next chapter

Jul. 05, 2010 @ 11:51 PM

They've played against each other so many times, the coaches can't even even keep track.

"I'd say eight times," Ed Leigh said.

"Twelve, thirteen times," Ashley Hammond said.

The U-19 Girls FC Bucks Vipers, out of the Philadelphia area, and the U-19 Girls Montclair Aristocrats, out of central New Jersey, are the US Youth Soccer Region I Championships' version of the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox.

"Yeah, we play them all the time," said Kelly Conheeney, an Aristocrat striker. "Kind of annoying."

Frustrating, but competitive. Intense, but fun. Playful, but dramatic.

It's two rosters full of Division-I talent going mano y mano for 90 minutes.

It's two teams separated by some 100 miles battling for East Coast pride.

It's two coaches having their last go-round with their girls.

Kickoff for the U-19 championship is at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday on Field 5 at the Barboursville Soccer Complex.

"These kids are like daughters to me," said Hammond, the Aristocrats coach who's had the bulk of his players for 13 years.

"I have great kids," said Leigh, the Vipers coach who's managed his team for eight years.

Last year, it was Leigh's bunch that took the region, squeaking by Hammond's crew, 1-0, on a penalty kick in the game's 89th minute.

The Vipers then went on to win the national championship.

Add another chapter to the rivalry.

"Back in the day, when we played them a lot, like before we went to college, they would beat us and then we would beat them," said Conheeney, who scored nine goals and had three assists last fall for Virginia Tech. "They would kill us and then we'd kill them. Like, they beat us 6-0 one game and then we beat them 6-0.

"It's like a bloodbath every time we play them, though."

A pretty uber-skilled bloodbath.

Each player on the Vipers is a Division-I player, including Heidi Sabatura, who was the Big East Rookie of the Year at Villanova University, and Colleen Williams, who was the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year at the University of Dayton.

It's the same for the Aristocrats, who feature Conheeney, who's trained with the U-23 US. national team, Morgan Stith, who was an ACC All-Freshman team selection last fall at the University of Virginia, as well as Amber Brooks and Maya Hayes, who both won't be participating Tuesday because they're in Germany in preparation for the U-20 FIFA World Cup.

"Eddie's team and my team are both good enough to beat most college teams, to be honest," Hammond said. "Because they are college teams -- most of them are top Division-I players.

"It's just flat-out good futbol. The girls are talented."

Should be a fun one.

AS FOR THEIR FALL JOBS: Hammond and Leigh never stop coaching -- literally.

Besides leading two of the nation's best club teams, they roam the sidelines for a pair of collegiate teams, too. Hammond is the head men's coach at Manhattan College and Leigh is a volunteer assistant for the LaSalle University women's team.

TWO AREAS, FIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS: The U-19 Girls Region I championship won't be the only final where the two teams hail from either Eastern Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

The U-19 Boys, U-18 Boys, U-14 Boys and U-12 Boys' championships all feature two teams from Eastern Pa. or N.J.

Why so talented?

"Part of it's population density," Hammond said. "Part of it's established programs. And part of it's we're driven competitively by so many good programs around that it just creates great soccer.

"Kids have lots of choices so coaches have to be really good. And once coaches and clubs get reputations, it tends to draw players in."

CHALK UP A WIN FOR EASTERN PA.: The U-16 Boys regional final will be all-Eastern Pa.

The Penn Fusion Celtic, out of Westtown, Pa., will take on PSC Coppa, out of Philadelphia, at 10:00 a.m. on Field 4.

FAIR PLAY WEST VIRGINIANS: West Virginia's U-13 Boys WVSC Rowdies, coached by Marshall's Bob Gray, and U-14 Boys CFC Fury, coached by Marshall's Thomas Olivier, were each given Fair Play Awards for their tremendous sportsmanship this week.

Andrew Ramspacher and Grant Traylor are sports reporters for the Herald-Dispatch.