Burr Burker, who coaches the Central Carroll Soccer Club's under-11 girls Bulldogs team, wasn't sure it was good enough to compete in the Central Maryland Soccer Association's under-11 Premier travel league this fall.
He opted instead for the less competitive Challenge Division.
Well, he found out his team was plenty good enough compete in that lower bracket-good enough to win it in fact. It is in first place with a 6-0 record. He can clinch if he wins this weekend’s final game of the season-against an opponent that is winless.
The Bulldogs had lost their goalie and needed to bring in a new one.That’s a pretty big deal with kids this young.
"At this age the goalie is the most important wheel on the team," Burker said. "We didn't know how the team would be affected, and we didn’t know how good we’d be. We felt it would take time to get her up to speed, so we went back to the Challenge Division.”
However, he found the right person for the job in Emma Pijpers.
And, it hasn’t taken the youngster long to get up to speed, either. Her team is a combined 14-4-2 this season. In six games, the Bulldogs have outscored their CMSA opponents 20-5.
“She has done a good job. She has worked out beautifully,” Burker said.
Pijpers is surrounded by a strong core of players. Over a dozen of her teammates have been with the team since it began play as a under-9 squad in 2016.
It also won its CMSA league in that first season as an under-9 team.
Central Carroll has played in two tournaments this season. It was second in August’s Gettysburg Battlefield Blast tournament and was eliminated in the semifinals of the Dillsburg Tournament.
The same Pennsylvania team knocked the locals out in both.
It opened its CMSA season with an easy win. But most of the rest of the games were battles. Three were 2-1 decisions and one a 3-1 verdict.
The most meaningful game for the Bulldogs came Oct. 28. Central Carroll played the Westminster Soccer Association’s under-11 team in an all-Carroll matchup.
“It’s a rivalry because most of the girls on the two teams go to [William Winchester Elementary],” Burker said.
Westminster hung close the whole time before dropping a 2-1 decision.
“They forced us to play one of our best games of the year,” he said.
Burker, and assistant coaches Melissa Merson and Brian Shepley, have worked hard to get their girls to this point. They have stressed soccer IQ and other mental aspects of the game as much as they have pushed physical skills.
Burker said wins and losses aren’t what youth soccer should be about, despite the fact that he coaches in a travel league were winning is stressed.
In fact, he believes that a loss can sometimes be better than a 6-0 win because it’s hard to learn from a 6-0 blow out. Losses can teach a team where it needs to improve.
While he keeps records of wins and losses, he’s not one to recite scores of games, their highlights or statistics.
“We teach them to play intelligently,” Burker said. “If they do that, the physical skills will come in time. We coach the girls in a way that makes it easier for them to succeed.”
The coach believes the girls are beginning to learn the mental aspects of the game, and as a result, the are playing it in the right manner.
“They are starting to grasp how to play the game and to play it at a higher level. If they can do that, they will win,” Burker said. “I tell them, ‘When you play a team equal to or even better than you, and you play he right way, you will win because you have an edge.’”
When one looks at all the close CMSA games his team has won, that mental edge may have made the difference.
Burker and his coaches want to get the girls ready for high school competition. And high school isn’t that far off.
“They’ll be able to play at the next level if they chose to,” he said. “That’s ultimately my goal.”