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Friday, July 16, 2021 | 5:05 pm

Courtesy Kevin Killinger

The Pittsburgh Hotspurs 2005 Blue Girls soccer team will test their courage at the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida. Team members are Kaley Simqu (Plum), McKenzie Pritts (Yough), Sofia Decerb (Latrobe), Emily Mannion (Gateway), Ashley Ornowski (Norwin), Ava Weleski (Plum), Kaitlyn Killinger (Plum), Gabriella Folino (Oakland Catholic ), Cami Collins (Plum), Casey Gorman (Mt. Lebanon), Alyssa Aquillio (Norwin), Regan Reilly (Latrobe), EmilyRae Graeca (DuBois), Madisyn Jesih (Gateway) and Ava Lorenzi (Latrobe).

Up-and-coming junior Cami Collins said the Pittsburgh Hotspurs 05 Blue football season was an unforgettable memory and the goal is to bring home the gold from the US Youth Soccer National Championships next week in Bradenton and Sarasota, Florida.

“It was a lot of fun playing tougher teams and that got us to be where we are now,” said Collins, who runs the Hotspurs with up and coming junior Kaitlyn Killinger and Kaley Simqu, up and coming second Ava Weleski and a selected number represents from other outstanding schools such as Latrobe, Norwin, Gateway and Mt. Lebanon.

“I enjoyed all the time I was allowed to spend with my teammates while I was out and about with them.”

The Hotspurs cracked their ticket to the national tournament with a first place in the Eastern Regional with 20 teams on July 1st in Hammonton, NJ

The team went 5-0-1 in six regional games, outperforming their opponents 23-9. It used a 9-3 goal difference in the pool game to get a 2-0-1 mark.

Pittsburgh beat Tredyffrin Easttown (Chester, Pennsylvania) 7-1 in the quarterfinals before beating Philadelphia SC Rage 3-2 penalties in the semifinals.

This win secured a place for the national team as two teams from each region advance. But the Hotspurs weren’t satisfied with just reaching the Eastern Final. It wanted it all and got it with a 4-3 victory over the Syracuse Development Academy.

“Regionals was one of the best football weeks I’ve ever had,” said Collins. “All of the teams we played against were really good, so we had to do our best in every game. The team we met in the semifinals were amazing and we ended up in the shootout. When our goalkeeper (Sophia Decerb, Latrobe) saved three goals and our last goal was scored, we all ran across the field with our parents. It was the best feeling.

“Our championship game was also super challenging. The team was super good, and when the final whistle sounded, I was amazed that we won and that we are going to join the national team. “

The Hotspurs begin on Tuesday with the game of billiards at the Nationals. The eight teams will play pool games through Thursday to determine who will advance to the semi-finals on Saturday and win the championship game on Sunday.

“The team has been together for a long time and we are all committed to this team,” said Killinger.

“We all had the same goal and that was to go to the national team. Everyone comes to practice and work hard. We had very good competition and we could compete and win. The fact that we’ve been playing together for so long has started to really work with our style of play together with coach Tommo (Thomas Ovenden). It is really something special to make it to the national team. “

The journey to the national team began with a division win at the USYS Great Lakes Conference and the PA State Cup.

“Everyone was committed to the Regionals to make this possible,” said Killinger.

The success of the Hotspurs for the Plum players follows the return of the Mustangs last fall to the WPIAL Class 5A championship game and a second consecutive section championship.

“The Plum Mustangs and the Pittsburgh Hotspurs are two different teams, but the dynamics are the same as both teams have the will to go as far as possible,” said Simqu.

“I can’t wait to play in Florida and then come back and prepare for our next high school season.”

Other members of the Hotspurs 2005 Blue team this year are McKenzie Pritts (Yough), Emily Mannion (Gateway), Ashley Ornowski (Norwin), Gabriella Folino (Oakland Catholic), Casey Gorman (Mt. Lebanon), Alyssa Aquillo (Norwin) , Regan Reilly (Latrobe), EmilyRae Graeca (DuBois), Madisyn Jesih (Gateway) and Ava Lorenzi (Latrobe).

Weleski said, “Playing at such a high level against teams from across the nation really brings out the best in this team.

“You can definitely see it on the field. As a captain, it feels so great to see your team come together and fight for each other no matter the conditions. I can tell you that every player poured their blood, sweat and tears into every training session and game throughout the season. “

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or on Twitter.

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