As the referee blew the final whistle in the girls under-18 title game at the United States Youth Soccer National Championships on July 28, Phoebe Canoles took off toward Alyssa Minnick. On the last day Premier Navy 2001 was a team, on the last day of the Premier Soccer Club’s existence and on the last day they would be teammates in a 12-year career together, Canoles and Minnick finally accomplished their goal of winning a national championship.
The entire team was crying and piling on each other on that emotional Sunday in Overland Park, Kansas. But for Canoles and Minnick, the two remaining players of the five girls who began their careers on a boys team before forming an elite soccer club of their own, this win was even more special.
As kids, Canoles and Minnick, along with three other girls, played on the Overlea soccer team with the boys. Occasionally, boys would complain that there were girls starting over them because, in their view, girls weren’t supposed to best them in sports, Canoles said.
When the girls turned 8, the parents asked Canoles’ dad, Jimmy, to coach, and they formed a team at Parkville, an all-girls soccer program.
Jimmy Canoles said he knew as soon as he saw those five girls playing with the boys that they were something special. After the first year of tournaments with the Parkville girls team, Jimmy Canoles said two goals were set: winning a national championship and getting the girls to college programs.
Kiana Miller, who joined what is now called Premier three years ago, said those aspirations were what drew her to the club, although the team’s growing reputation intimidated those who wanted to play for them.
The girls are normal high school students who love to dance to Meek Mill and gather at Olive Garden, but Jimmy Canoles said they also have a reputation throughout the country. They set high standards for themselves, and they expect the same of anyone who tries out.
“I feel like for our goals that our team had, if there weren't a lot of people going to play college soccer, then what were they playing on this team for?” Minnick said.
Aiming for a national championship was the best way to prepare for college, Minnick said. She was the first on her team to commit when she said yes to Virginia Commonwealth University as a sophomore. She later switched her commitment to UMBC.
Minnick said playing in the United States Youth Soccer National League with Premier was the most critical part of her recruitment process. Over 600 college coaches attend National League events.
"They were like, ‘We started this and we wanted to finish this.’ And they did.”— Jimmy Canoles on Phoebe Canoles and Alyssa Minnick winning a national title together
When the girls hit U-15, Jimmy Canoles switched to assistant coach and made the club’s director of coaching, Val Teixeira, the head coach. With his connections as a former professional indoor soccer player for the Harrisburg Heat and his extensive recruiting knowledge, Teixeira, the coach at Notre Dame Prep, played a critical role in helping the girls go through college recruitment.
Jimmy Canoles said the two Premier teams Teixeira has coached have had the most players go on to play college soccer. Some now play professionally overseas, Teixeira said, and one current member of Premier Navy 2001, Emma Bocanegra, has played for the Peruvian national team.
In addition to Minnick, Phoebe Canoles and Madison Carr are headed to Towson, Alexandra Fava to Kentucky, Lauren Gwin to Stevenson, Briana Bush to Gettysburg, Elyssa Nowowieski to Campbell, Elisa Piccirilli to Marshall, Hannah Steele to Charleston Southern and Bocanegra to Johns Hopkins. With junior Aya Neal’s verbal commitment to Charleston Southern, that makes 11 out of 21 players with plans to play college soccer. Rising seniors Leia Black and Sophie Elguera also received offers at this year’s tournament, Teixeira said.
Even as they achieved their college soccer goals, the girls still had one more left to accomplish. They had to win a national championship.
The team fell just short last year when it lost by one goal in the semifinals. The girls knew the 2019 tournament was not only the last chance for the nine seniors on the team to compete for the title before heading to college, but also the last time they could play for the Premier Soccer Club, which will merge with Coppermine next year.
To get there, they had to compete in the National League, which consists of seven games across two events. Teams that win the league get a free pass to the tournament. The rest must compete in state and then regional championships to qualify. Premier Navy 2001 made it in by winning the league.
There was a moment of fear this year when they thought their record wouldn’t be good enough, Minnick said. But they made it in, and soon enough they were pouring water on their coach’s head in celebration of a 2-1 win over the Lady Lobos Rush Premier from Tennessee in the final.
“It was a perfect ending,” Teixeira said. “That was the moment we looked at each other and said every single thing we missed with our family and friends was worth it for this moment.”
Jimmy Canoles said he saw Phoebe Canoles and Minnick run to each other.
“It was a very moving time," Jimmy Canoles said. "They could have gone other places. ... They were like, ‘We started this and we wanted to finish this.’ And they did.”
Then Phoebe Canoles turned and tackled him.
With the victory, Premier Navy 2001 became the second girls soccer team from Maryland to win a national championship. The congratulations texts flooded in from family and friends — and some of the boys who Phoebe Canoles and Minnick played with as kids.
The girls will keep the moment with them forever — some of them physically.
Phoebe Canoles said many of her teammates are going to get the date — July 28, which just happens to be National Soccer Day — tattooed on them. She’s going to get it on her foot.
Even without the ink, Phoebe Canoles will always remember the moment.
“Every time I step on the field, I think about this team,” she said.