The year 2007 was a very good one for Central Carroll Soccer Club coach Frank Wagner, although he didn't know it at the time. That's the year that a special group of girls was born to households throughout Carroll County and parts beyond.
They came from all corners of the map, but they all wound up together in 2015, playing on Wagner's Central Carroll Soccer Club 2007 Wildfire travel soccer team.
Since then, they’ve established a winning tradition.
Of course “tradition” might seem a heavy term to apply to a bunch of 9- and 10-year-old girls. However, they have been dominant or near-dominant from the time their soccer careers hatched as an under-9 team in 2015.
They recently finished first in the spring Central Maryland Soccer League's under-11 A Premier Division with a 5-0-1 record. But that’s just the latest link forged in the chain.
In August of 2015, that first year their team was organized, they were under-9 finalists in the Lutherville-Timonium Soccer Club Challenge Cup tournament. That October, they again made a tournament final, this being in the Dillsburg Dual Shootout A Division.
"Back then we were bridesmaids but never the bride; we were only finalists,” Wagner said. “But later on, you started seeing the word 'champions' instead of 'finalists.’ ”
In November of that year, they first broke through by winning the championship of the CMSA under-9 Fall League.
After that came four more second-place finishes until October, 2016. The local kids tried the Dillsburg Dual Shootout again, and they won it this time.
Since then, Wildfire has won seven league and tournament championships.
The amazing thing is the fact that Wildfire continues to win even with a steady turnover. Last fall, for example, there were seven openings on its roster of 16, and older players aged out and moved on to other teams.
Wagner explained that he tried to let prospective players and their families know what they were in for before the youngsters tried out for his team.
He briefed them on the costs involved and also on the demanding practice and game schedule they would face. He warned that they might not start or get equal playing time with other girls. He nevertheless filled those seven slots.
The team was competing in last fall’s CMSA under-11 A Division when half of its girls had never played travel soccer before. No matter.
His team swept through that A Division with an 8-0 record, new players and all. Those new players acquitted themselves well.
They continued to do so this spring, too. And in taking this spring’s CMSA championship, Wildfire proved that it could win even without key starters. In their final two games, the girls played a tie and had a 2-1 win even though four starters were playing in basketball tournaments or had other obligations.
But kids who had been reserves stepped up.
“Some bench players normally only had to give us a few minutes so we could rest starters. But this time they had to play all the way, and they did the job,” Wagner said. “When that happens, you get to see the fruits of your labor.”
His team also won the Old Line State Classic under-11 title in April, sweeping five games.
Back in January, they were a finalist in EDP’s Maryland Futsal Cup even though they hadn’t played futsal. Their impressive performance in that tournament was noticed.
“Afterward [an official] came up to me and said, ‘’You have to play in our EDP league,’” Wagner recalled.
On March 31, Wildfire had two entrants in the Dillsburg 3v3 soccer tournament. Now the Wildcats hadn't played in a 3v3 soccer, but one of its teams finished third at Dillsburg and the other, first. Wagner’s first-place team came back strong after a slow start.
The coach noted that they won the championship game 8-2 over a team that had beaten them badly in pool play.
So, his players have won two titles in regulation soccer this year, plus another title and a second place in variants of soccer they had never played.
Wagner credits their successes to a combination of talent, versatility and a whole lot of effort.
“We stress hard work in practice and they work very, very hard. They have a workload beyond what is usual for their age group,” the coach said.
He stressed that, “we emphasize both the physical and the mental side of soccer.”
On the physical side, they often play on small teams during practice so each player gets a lot of touches and has to think a lot for that reason.
“It’s all about fast feet and quick touches. You are dependent on the touches and not on the team. In our drills, we give the girls a lot of chances to handle the ball,” Wagner said.
Perhaps that is why they won that 3v3 tournament.
Sometimes, Wagner or assistants Mike McGinnis and Julia Kravitz might stop play during practice and ask girls questions about the game situation they’re facing and how they should shift in order to react to it.
All of this is intended to get them acclimated to rapid play and changing situations in which they must think and react quickly.
Wagner says his team will move over to EDP soccer this fall in order to change things around a bit.
“We want to face a broader number of teams,” Wagner said, although he added that Wildfire may also remain in CMSA.