By Tim Nash
GREENSBORO — Cameron Ringer and Tatum Neff can’t remember much about the first time they played soccer together. They were, after all, just 3 years old.
Starting on Friday, Neff and Ringer will be playing in the US Youth Soccer Southern Regionals at Bryan Park on the fields where they started together 14 years ago.
GUSA is one of four local teams competing in the region championship. Three Piedmont Triad Football Club teams – the 15 and Under boys, 19 and under girls and 19 and Under boys will be chasing titles as well.
Ringer and Neff, rising seniors at Page High School, play for the Greensboro United 18 and Under Navy girls. From June 22-28, the team will be competing in the championship round of the 12-state Southern region, trying to advance to the national championship next month in Frisco, Tex.
GUSA Navy’s 17 players come from nine different high schools from four different counties. And in a situation unique to youth sports, the team has a core group of 11 players who have played together for the past five or six years – Neff, Ringer, Claire Marion, Logan Farrelly, Gracie Mayer, Laura Harris, Payton Creed, Katelyn Bourque, Tayte Beeninga, and Ashley Blum.
“We all have different personalities and we all go to different schools, and for some reason it all clicks,” said Neff, a striker. “We all get along really, really well. On some teams, each individual can be really skilled, but if the team can’t bond, it won’t be successful.”
Fourteen years ago, when they played for the Under-4 Shooting Stars, Ringer and Neff designated themselves as warmup partners, a tradition that still stands. They carpooled to practices until they got their driver’s licenses, then continued carpooling anyway. They park in the same spot on each trip to Bryan Park and now claim it as their own private space.
The Shooting Stars, coached by Tatum’s dad Scott, could have their games interrupted by a puppy on the sidelines or butterflies on the field. Oranges at halftime and post-game snacks were as important then as goals and wins are now.
But what they enjoyed the most as 3-year-olds, what kept them coming back year after year — fun and relationships — are still high priorities.
“I always look forward to seeing my teammates,” said Ringer, the third of four soccer-playing Ringer girls. “I love playing soccer, obviously, but playing with all of them just makes it so much more fun.”
Forrest Collier, GUSA’s Director of Soccer, has coached the team for the past five years. He’s seen some players leave and new ones arrive, but the team chemistry always remains the same.
“I never have to deal with inner-team turmoil,” he said. “Every kid is treated really well by every other kid. Even when we’ve brought in new players, they are immediately made part of the family.
“Because of their relationships and how much they care about each other, they’ve probably gotten better results than their level of play would normally dictate.”
There’s a saying about coaching women. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” According to his players, Collier understands it well.
“He really gets to know his players very well,” said Neff. “He’s not just focused on the soccer. He gets to know us as people, not just soccer players.”
Added Ringer, “He’s not only made each of us better players. He’s made us better people, too. He doesn’t just teach me about soccer. He teaches me about life. It helps that we all want to play for him. We want to win games for him. It helps us to play harder.”
The team is making its second straight appearance at the region championship. Last year, Navy was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
“I was really nervous last year because I had never played in something that big before,” said Ringer, a defender. “I’ll probably still be nervous, but I feel more prepared because I know what to expect.”
GUSA, ranked 18th in the South by Got Soccer, opens round-robin group play on Friday at 10 am against 28th-ranked Rise Soccer Club out of Houston. Saturday’s opponent is No. 10 SSA Chelsea from Marietta, Ga. The team concludes group play on Sunday against the 14th-ranked Austin Texans.
All three games in the group stage are at 10 am on field 2 at Bryan Park.
“Anytime you end up with two South Texas teams and Georgia in your group, that’s not what you are hoping for,” said Collier. “But this team has always risen to the occasion. For better or for worse, they play to the level of their competition. That’s great when the level is high, which it will be here.”