“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.”
― Mia Hamm
With ten seconds to spare in double overtime of the 2017 Cal South State Cup Presidents Cup Girls 17U game between IE Surf and Greater LB Wave, Cle Kooiman’s group of girls remembered the Mia Hamm quote that he had read to them before the game, and built up the power and strength to play, not just for that little girl, but for the rest of the girls on the team, scoring the fifth goal in what would be a 5-4 victory for the San Bernardino team.
The State Cup Presidents Division title was just a preview of the type of heart-stopping games IE Surf was to perform throughout US Youth Soccer’s Region IV Presidents Cup in Salt Lake City and eventually National Presidents Cup in Auburndale, Fla, where they didn’t disappoint their families, friends, themselves, or coach Kooiman.
“To me the Championship trophy was basically the culmination of the girls’ perseverance, dedication, commitment, and most importantly, I think character,” Kooiman told calsouth.com.
He added, “California and Cal South, being some of the best soccer in the nation, I felt that if we can stay in the game, and make it with 10-20 minutes left to go, we were going to be able to fight back if we were in a hole.”
Coach Kooiman has had his share of experiences in the world of soccer. As a former professional soccer player and member of the U.S Men’s National Team during the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Kooiman knows about the importance and stresses of a game.
“For these girls, this was their World Cup,” Kooiman said. “They all gave absolutely everything they had and I couldn’t have been prouder. There’s probably three or four instances in my life as a coach that have taken me to that level, and these girls took me that level, three out of the four times. They were just beautiful, athletic women, committed to fighting for each other.”
In order to get to that level of commitment and bond, coach Kooiman worked with his girls to form a close-knit group. While Kooiman was able to count on the majority of his roster, he saw the need to bring in two additional players to boost the talented group. Once the team was complete, it was time to get down to business.
In the months prior to State Cup, Kooiman worked with IE Surf’s Strength & Conditioning coach Daniel ‘DJ’ Vigil to get the girls in the best shape possible. The team worked on sprinting, agility, and additionally began doing cryotherapy treatments. At that time, qualifying to State Cup was the goal, but there was so much more in store for this team.
“It was rough, we weren’t the team we are right now,” said 17-year-old defender Skylar Morales. “Our team, at first we weren’t very close, but then we just started bonding and then we picked up new players, and we all clicked.”
“It’s been a long journey, and we look back on it and I can’t believe we made it this far,” she added.
Hannah Grady was one of Kooiman’s last acquisitions before the start of State Cup. Although the beginning was tough for Grady with the team, they were able to form a bond that would eventually get them through the toughest competitions in the country.
The training sessions were tough, not just for Grady, but for the rest of the team. Not only were they putting their bodies through tough conditions, but had to sacrifice school functions, time with friends and family, and typical 17- and 18-year-old things.
Coach Kooiman had a tough task at motivating and keeping High School Juniors and Seniors motivated to keep on pushing through the hard times. However, he found the answer in quotes, movies and songs.
“We’d always listen to the one-inch speech by Al Pacino of one of the football snippets of his movies, and we listen to Eminem, his song [Lose Yourself], ‘His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy,’” Grady said. “I think it really helped us get in game mode because there wasn’t another chance for us to do this again. We’re 17, we’re going to be going to college soon, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to have to do it now.”
After their National Presidents Cup Championship title, IE Surf is continuing their participation in top Southern California Tournaments. Coach Kooiman is working with the girls to have all of them committed to a college or university, whether it be for athletics, education or both.