Perhaps they didn’t win their first game in the California Regional League, and by one goal, missed out on the chance of being crowned Cal South National Cup Champions. Maybe the first game of the US Youth Soccer Far West Regionals was tougher than expected. Tears were shed and lessons were learned.

But all the losses and hard work paid off when it came to National Championships, where San Diego Surf led in every way possible, clinching the 2017 US Youth Soccer National Championship in the 13U Girls Division.

“The National Championship means a lot to me because we’ve worked for 11 months to get here, and we’ve trained so much, and the fact is that it all paid off,” said Surf forward Paige Buchner. ” In all the practices we were told, ‘This is leading up to the National Championship.'”

Once Surf clinched their berth to the National Championship after a 2-1 victory over fellow Cal South club Real So Cal in the Far West Regional Championship match in Seattle, coach Paul Dolinsky knew he had to work the girls extra hard to prepare not just for the heat and humidity of Frisco, Texas, but for the challenge on and off the field.

But the moment also reminded Dolinsky of his childhood and how he, too, won a National Youth Championship in his native Holland. He wanted the girls to know that amazing feeling that he felt when he and his teammates lifted the coveted trophy.

Just like he did at some point, he prepared the girls physically and mentally, hosting training sessions at midday while the players wore full body suits to retain heat and attempt to mimic the Dallas weather.

“I like to think that we trained and prepared better than any team in the country in our age group. Whether or not that’s true or not, I don’t know,” Dolinsky said. I know there’s some good teams out there, some quality coaches out there, a lot of clubs around the country really doing things the right way. But I think that goes to our mentality where we can instill that confidence amongst ourselves and in our players, that we are training harder, we are working harder than anyone out there and we’re better prepared for anything that we’ll come across.”

For San Diego Surf, the journey to a US Youth Soccer National Championship was long, but totally worth it in the end. Through the pain, tears and losses, the girls stuck together to make it through what could be their first and only national championship run and to clinch what every player and what over 10,000 teams nation-wide sought out to do on Day 1 of every season. Coach Dolinsky couldn’t be prouder.

“I never got to win a National Championship as a player in this country, so being American-born and having the girls win it for themselves, honestly, they’re such a smart group, they’re wise beyond their years, as far as 13 and 14-year-old girls go. Almost emotionless at times because they’re so aware of what’s going on around them, but seeing the smiles on their faces, when that final whistle blew, I couldn’t have been happier for them,” Dolinsky finalized.