Rec Sports Spotlight: Wildfire keeps gaining steam in travel soccer

Frank Wagner has had a lot of success with his Central Carroll Wildfire girls soccer travel teams over the roughly 27 years he has coached them.

A look at the team's web site reveals an impressive record of wins and near-wins in tournaments and leagues throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania that stretches back a long way.


The 57 year-old resident of Westminster starts the teams as under-9 squads and keeps them until they are about ready to enter high school. Then he goes back and starts with a new group.

Wagner forms his team with players from throughout Carroll County. This year's edition even has three from Hereford.


Wagner says he must recruit from afar because there sometimes aren't enough girls in the club's Westminster/Sandymount/Gamber draw areas to form a full team. Consequently, when the girls get old enough for high school, they head back out to the four winds.

"A couple of years ago, we sent girls to 11 different high schools," Wagner recalled.

He and the team's other coaches, Mike McGinnis and Julia Kravitz, evidently chose the right players for their current 2007 under-10 team. These kids have compiled quite an impressive record since beginning play in 2015.

They have won championships in two leagues and been finalists in four others since they started play. They have been runners-up in two tournaments and won two.


The first title was in last fall's Dillsburg (Pa.) Fall Shoot-out where they went 8-0 in their under-10 division. Wildfire gave up one goal the whole time, and that came on a penalty kick.

The second win came on May 20-21 when Wildfire won the York Cup under-10 title. This was also a sweep-four games. And Wildfire never surrendered a single goal.

Wagner says that, in addition to being physically talented, these girls are soccer smart well beyond their years.

"When they play, they not only look ahead on the field to see what they have to do. They also see what the others on their team have to do," Wagner explained.

Part of this instinct comes through continual training.

If they are in a tournament and not playing, their coaches have them watch other games and ask them questions about what the teams are trying to do and if they are doing things correctly.

Wagner explained that this ongoing training combined with girls' innate soccer smarts has put them well in front of other youngsters their age.

"I watched a high school practice and taught some of the drills to the girls. A month later, I have under-10 girls doing the same drills," Wagner said. "This group has been quick learners. I set goals for the teams each year, and these girls are about a year ahead of where they would normally be."

The team plays a deliberate style that capitalizes on its players' cerebral nature. They utilize quick, accurate passes to move the ball rather than simply kicking the ball ahead and chasing it.

"We play a possession style of soccer that stresses proficiency, not speed. We use our speed, but we control it," Wagner said.

They certainly showed they played under control and well ahead of the under-10 teams in Dillsburg during the York Cup tournament back in May.

While the Wildfire players hadn't seen any of those teams, the lack of advance knowledge on those kids obviously didn't hurt them.

Wildfire opened on May 20 with an easy 13-0 win over the Dover Blast, a game in which most of the roster got in on the scoring. Abbey Reiger, Claire Gilligan, Alexi McGinnis, Casey Zentz, Natalie Sczetuch, and Emmerson Hill each scored a goal.

But offense wasn't the only headline. Goalie Emma Lander etched the shutout. And she had critical help from sweeper Kiara Hardy to whom Wagner gives virtually equal credit for the blanking.

"You might get past [Hardy] one time, but you won't get past her a second time," he said.

Game 2 was an 8-0 blank job. Evelyn Williams, Emily Meeker, Maycee Hill and Summer Brooks were among the scorers in that one.

The Wildfire finished the day, 2-0. On Sunday, they continued their run. They opened by shutting out the Mason-Dixon Extreme 9-0.

Wagner moved Hardy up to the front line and gave her a chance to score in this one. The youngster took advantage of the opportunity and added her name to the team's list of goal-scorers.

"I asked [goalie] Lander two times if she wanted to play forward and try to score a goal, but she wanted to go for the shutout," Wagner said.

The youngster would be the only Wildfire player who didn't score a goal in the tournament. Overall, they scored 34 goals to zip for their four opponents.

The Wildfire won the championship game, 4-0 over the Mason-Dixon Pride. They led 3-0 at halftime.

"[Mason-Dixon] came out and played us hard; they were ready for us," Wagner said.

But alas, to no avail.

Wildfire has played in the Central Maryland Soccer Association the past two years and will play there this fall. But the coaches plan to move it to the EDP girls soccer league next spring.

"The girls are ready for it. But we need a few more players in case there are injuries or other reasons players can't be here," Wagner said.


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