Storm chasers: U11 girls squad seeks state championship this weekend

CSI STAFF REPORT

Fresh off a runner-up finish at regionals, the Azzurri Storm’s U11 girls soccer “Purple” team (aka the Storm Sisters) will have a chance to compete for a state championship this weekend.

Head coach Bill Peterson’s squad is the only team among the Final Four to receive an invitation to the state finals, which will be held at the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale (headquarters of the Florida Youth Soccer Association). The Storm Sisters lost the Region C final in overtime after playing their opponent to a scoreless tie in regulation.

The Azzurri Storm U11 team has reason to feel confident as it enters the state finals this weekend. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Storm Sisters’ journey to this point began at the U9 level during the 2016-17 season. Under Peterson’s guidance, the newly formed team was comprised of mixed-level players who were transitioning from recreational soccer. Though there weren’t many wins early on, the team remained focused on development, proper technique and character building. They also joined a futsal league (indoor style soccer) to improve their skills and speed of play.

The breakthrough season came last year. After tryouts, the Azzurri girls attended 3v3 tournaments leading up to the 2017-18 season. Peterson then formed — and coached — two U10 teams, continuing to develop the players with eventual 11v11 action in mind. His first team won three tournaments and went undefeated as it captured the Southwest Florida league (Division 1). The second team continued to mature and finished as a Division 2 finalist in the end-of-season tournament.

After the 2017-18 season, the Azzurri Storm made a huge move by reaching an affiliation agreement with professional soccer organization Orlando City. The Storm players attended an Orlando Pride game last summer, serving as player escorts. A few players also attended an all-girls overnight junior elite camp conducted by Florida Gulf Coast University women’s soccer coach Jim Blankenship, who was assisted by his players and staff.

PHOTO GALLERY: View images of the Storm Sisters from the 2018-19 season

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The Storm Sisters launched their 2018-19 season at the Tampa Bay Labor Day Tournament in Lakewood Ranch. They didn’t place, but they did earn victories over top-10 teams in the state. The Storm Sisters went on to win four tournaments before a runner-up finish in the SWFL league’s Division 1. (Along the way, they competed against U12 teams and higher-ranked squads at the Orange Classic in Plantation and the Weston Cup.)

“It has been an amazing journey for the U11 Storm Sisters, Coach Bill, and assistant Coach Josh Rodrique,” said Sara Peterson, the team’s social planner and Azzurri Storm social media manager. “We are grateful for all our supporters that helped make this possible thus far. They are currently No. 6 in the state, and are privileged to attend (the) state finals this weekend to represent Southwest Florida and Azzurri Storm.”

Those who attend the state finals should expect to see plenty of Azzurri Storm spirit scarves, as well as signs that read “Power to the Purple” and “Storm Warning in Effect — 100% Chance of Awesome” (created by team co-manager Wendy Ralph and player Riley Ralph).

Player evaluations for the Azzurri Storm’s 2019-20 season begin May 6. To learn about the Azzurri Storm team formation process, visit www.azzurristorm.com/tryouts. For up-to-date information about the U11 girls and other club successes, follow them at www.azzurristorm.com and on Instagram at @AzzurriStormSoccer.