Region III U17s: Arkansas team aims high

NWA Lightening Strikers of Arkansas enters the weekend with unmatched experience. The squad has won their sixth consecutive Arkansas State Cup title, and is making the trip to the Region III Championships for the fourth straight year.

“I have to admit, it’s kind of a rare find,” says coach Doug Estrada, “finding that level of commitment from the girls in this area who have this kind of ability, and have competed nationally.”

Estrada says his team is made up of players from six different high schools across Northwest Arkansas, and seven of them were given all-state honors this past spring. His daughter, Taylor Estrada, is the two-time Arkansas Girls Soccer Player of the Year and has verbally committed to Kansas for the fall of 2013.

But he also says that the team is often overlooked, and opponents seem to underestimate his squad because of where they are from.

“I think we surprise a lot of people in our age group,” he says. “We’re competing against teams from Dallas, Tulsa, North Carolina and Florida. These are markets that are five or six times bigger than ours.

“And we’ve beaten a lot of these teams,” he continues. “The caliber of play is extremely high. Because of the number of showcases that we go to, we’ve seen a lot of these great teams and we’ve been able to compete with all of them.”

The Lightening Strikers have a number of girls going on to play college soccer, including defenders Lauren Cowgur and Sara Lachance, who will be teammates at Arkansas-Little Rock. An offense powered by forwards Ellen Lundy, Taylor Ward and Alexandra Dougherty will be tough to stop, and this squad looks to return to the elimination rounds again this season.

They’ve surprised people in the past. And this year, Estrada says, “We feel confident that we can go far enough to win this thing.”

Pre-Event Favorites

NC Fusion (Group D) – Winning the Atlanta Final Four Soccer Showcase in December was a big step for this squad.

Brandon FC (Group B) – Last year’s Premier League winner has shown they can run with the best.

CFK (Group C) – Florida State Cup champions also had a good Disney Showcase in December.

Albion Hurricane (Group A) – Premier League qualifiers have a tough first game against FC Alliance.

NWA Lightening Strikers (Group C) – Looks to prove they can compete with big state teams.

Under-17 Players to Watch

McKenzie Bricker, MF/F, Lady Lobos – Region III ODP player

Delaney Sheehan, D/F, Louisiana Fire – Region III ODP player

Kendall Fischlein, F, NC Fusion – This Wake Forest commit is key to the NC Fusion offense

Taylor Estrada, MF, NWA Lightening Strikers – Two time Arkansas Girls Soccer Player of the Year

Melissa Capocaccia, D, Lady Lobos – Mississippi commit key to Lady Lobos defense

Karli Gutsche, Brandon – Member of the Region III ODP squad

Nicole Naclerio, Brandon – Region III ODP and youth national team player pool member