ECNL REGIONAL LEAGUE – HEARTLAND GEARING UP FOR POSTSEASON PLAY
By Jacob Born | February 24, 2022
A 10-month long journey is coming to its conclusion this weekend.
The ECNL Girls Regional League – Heartland will be the first ECNL Regional League to crown its regular-season champions at its championship event this weekend in St. Louis. At each of the U15-U18/19 age groups, four teams will compete for the title and a berth in the ECNL Regional League Finals, held in Seattle this upcoming June.
Broken up into two divisions in each age group during the regular season, the ECNL Regional League – Heartland championship event places the top two teams from the North and South Divisions into a four-team bracket, with cross-divisional semifinal matches. The two winners then advance to the Heartland Conference championship match. These games are the conclusion of a long and demanding path for these teams as they navigated the proving ground of the ECNL Regional League this fall and winter.
The ECNL Regional League was created to allow for the individual development of more athletes within the ECNL environment, for teams to have meaningful regional competition with post-season pathways, and for clubs to show their quality in hopes of eventually being considered for the ECNL Club Competition.
SLSG Missouri has a team in the U15, U16 and U18/19 brackets, while SLSG Illinois will participate in the U17 brackets. St. Louis Scott Gallagher is the only organization to have a team competing in every age group. The road to this championship event began last summer, and now, the club is thrilled to be in this position in every age group.
“We started this journey back in June,” said Maggie Richard, SLSG MO ECNL Regional League Director. “At the beginning of the year, the girls talked about reaching the playoffs, that was their goal. And now we’re super excited to have earned this opportunity, especially with it being in St. Louis.”
Richard points to a collective mindset as a big reason why SLSG has qualified in every age group. “The girls were committed, they worked hard. And all the results showed they’re one of the top teams in the country and now have a chance to head to Seattle.”
The cross-divisional format of the ECNL Regional League – Heartland championship event allows for some great matchups and will truly test each team. One of the best match-ups of the weekend will be in the U16 age group, when SLSG MO will take on Kansas City Athletics.
KC Athletics, like St. Louis Scott Gallagher, is proud to have multiple teams qualify – for them in the U16 and U18/19 age groups. Every team had been working toward this every day this season, and now they have the chance to finish the job.
“These girls, they’ve done extremely well and have obviously made us proud,” said Vasil Ristov, KC Athletics ECNL Club Competition/Regional League Director. “It’s been a pleasure to watch them play this year and succeed. The quality of their games has been amazing and they’ve made it their mission to be the best in the Heartland.”
KC Athletics captured the U15 ECNL Club Competition National Championship in Richmond last July and headed into this year as U16s with an extremely deep group of athletes in the age group. With such a deep pool, the level needed to succeed is continually raised each and every day in training sessions, something KC Athletics doesn’t take for granted.
“I think we’ve done a good job of putting our players in a position to succeed,” Ristov said. “It’s a good problem to have as a coach, having so many good players to choose from. We want to be competitive and successful at every level. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Regional League or Club Competition, we want to win.”
At the U19 level, KC Athletics consistently pulled players from the Regional League to compete in the Club Competition for the organization, and every time, it was a successful outing. Those players fit right into the Club Competition, while the Regional League team never missed a beat, finishing first in the South Division in the ECNL Regional League – Heartland.
Ristov credits the girls for always having the “next player up” mentality, while also lauding the developmental opportunities his club was afforded this year.
“Our players and our coaches have done a tremendous job,” Ristov said. “We have a specific curriculum at the club, and from start to finish, our coaches taught that plan and the girls believed in the process and they invested in it. Props to the girls and to the coaches.”
“We are so grateful for the ECNL to create this platform and this opportunity,” Richard said. “The goal is to win and to qualify for Seattle, performing at the highest level and to do so in front of so many college coaches and D-I schools, it would be magnificent.”
In each age group, four teams will meet in St. Louis with their eyes on a championship, but only one will emerge victorious.
“We had the pleasure to win a national championship last year with our U15s, and that feeling is the best,” Ristov said. “We want that at every level. The competition is going to be tough, but we’re very excited to compete.”
Two wins to a trophy. Good luck to all competing teams!
To view the complete brackets and schedule for the ECNL Regional League – Heartland championship event, click here.