Rec Sports Spotlight: North Carroll a Force with team titles

North Carroll Force under-14 team has won five team championships this season.
North Carroll Force under-14 team has won five team championships this season. (Courtesy photo)

Jeff Fritz, who coaches the North Carroll Force under-14 boys youth soccer team, believes he has the formula for a winning youth soccer team.

That formula is simple.


“You need to play soccer right, and you need good coaches. You need the kids and parents to have fun and be involved for the right reasons,” he said.

It doesn’t hurt to be a winner, either.

“We’ve probably finished first in tournaments and league play close to 30 times since we were an under-8 team,” Fritz said.

They are under-14 now, and in their sixth year. That averages to five championships a year. Not bad at all.

In fact, they’ve already won five titles this year, beginning over the winter when they went 8-0 in a Hanover indoor soccer league.

An under-13 team at the time, the Force even played up a year in the under-14 loop.

Fritz said keeping the same players together and molding them into a cohesive unit are keys to success, despite many things that militate against it.

“It’s very hard to stay together these days with so many club and travel teams to choose from,” he said. “Kids are pulled in different directions. We benefit from the kids staying together.”

This year could have been different though. Fritz had to replace seven players, the most he has ever had to find replacements for.

But after he’d selected them, he was more upbeat than ever.

“I knew we didn’t have to worry. They are all starter-quality, and I thought we’d have one of our best years,” Fritz said.

The new players have fit nicely. And the season has been outstanding.

In fact, Fritz said, "if you’d watch them play, you’d think they’d been with us since they were 8 years old.”

The work involved with getting the players to fit together so well falls heavily on the coaches. Fritz has two good ones.


One is Jason Stremmel, who played at University of Maryland and also coaches the N.C. Crush boys 2007 team.

The other is Larry Smith, whose primary responsibilities are working with the goalies and team conditioning.

Force swept all four of their games to win the Arlington, Virginia, Spring Invitational in March. That was the team’s first soccer competition with all of the new players in the lineup.

Then in late May, they won the EDP spring soccer league’s championship tournament, going 6-1-1.

In July, the Force moved up to under-14 competition when it played in Gettysburg’s Battlefield Blast tournament.

Playing older kids didn’t bother the locals a bit. They went 6-0, scoring 17 goals and allowing only one.

Two weekends ago, Force went to Frankford, Delaware, to play in the River Soccer Club's Columbus Day Classic.

The first three games were fairly easy as Force maintained control.

They opened by beating Hereford 4-0, and the margin could have been higher.

Fritz’s team won Game 2, 3-0 over HFC United.

“It’s one of our best games we’ve played all year in terms of moving the ball and passing the ball. This was a fun game to watch,” he said.

Game 3 was another rout, 8-0 over Fallston. The Force came into the final game needing only a tie to win the title.

But the Parkland (Pa.) Raiders nearly denied the locals even that much.

Parkland scored early in the game, but North Carroll tied it 1-1 before halftime.

With 10 minutes remaining, the Raiders scored out of a scramble in front to the net to go up 2-1. The Force, which had swept three games without giving up a goal at all, were in danger of losing the championship.

But a handball penalty with about four minutes remaining gave the Carrol County squad a free kick which it converted to tie the contest.

That’s how the game ended, and North Carroll had its championship.

“A win is always better than a tie, but I thought the kids played fantastically,” Fritz said.

Looking for the toughest competition available, he’s tested his team against some clubs that are top-ranked in Maryland and even nationally.

And it has measured up.

He noted his team had played well against No. 1-ranked Maryland team, Brausa SC, last summer. The Force lost 1-0.

But he really took satisfaction with a pair of games against Penn Fusion, a nationally-ranked youth soccer team.

"We lost 9-1 to them in August, 2017. We really got our heads handed to us,” Fritz said. “But last August, almost to the day, we played them again and tied 1-1. We could have won. That’s the kind of improvement we look for.”

Fritz says North Carroll is ranked 21st in Maryland, but added his squad has already beaten half of the teams ranked ahead of it.

But while he likes the ranking, he says his primary goal is to prepare his players for high school soccer.

An assistant boys varsity coach at Manchester Valley, Fritz believes that about 95 percent of his youth players will one day join him there. Fritz has hoped they’d form a state champion team ever since they played under-8 soccer for him.

The way things have gone over the years, it might not be wise to bet against it.