Last fall, Jess Sacco started her junior season with the Hun School girls’ soccer team on the sidelines as she recovered from a Lisfranc foot injury.
The central midfielder returned to action late in the campaign and helped Hun advance to the Prep A championship game where it fell to perennial power Pennington.
This summer, though, Sacco gained a title as she helped the FC Bucks U17 team win the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) championship in Richmond, Va. as it edged Internationals Soccer Club (Ohio) 2-1 in the final.
“At the beginning of the season, our coaches said this might be our last shot for a national title with this group because so many are going off to college,” said Sacco, who has committed to Lehigh University where she will be competing for the school’s women’s soccer team.
“I wouldn’t want to win with any other group, we have been seeing each other five times a week with practices and games.”
In order to make it to Richmond, the team had to raise its game in the playoffs in Seattle.
“We had to do well in the regular season to qualify for the tournament in Seattle,” said Sacco, who was joined on the FC Bucks squad by Hun teammate and fellow rising senior Ashley Maziarz.
“There were eight groups of four teams and the top team from each group made it to the nationals in Richmond.”
Coming into its final contest in Seattle, FC Bucks had to win or tie to earn one of the coveted eight spots.
“It was tough; we were shorthanded because two girls had to fly back due to prior flight arrangements,” said Sacco. “We were all tired, we played well and pulled out the tie.”
Sacco had the feeling that the team was going to keep playing well in Richmond.
“I could tell that everyone was nervous but we were also fired up,” said Sacco. “I had never seen the team so excited. Seattle gave us momentum. We had been undefeated in our last eight or nine games. I think we all wanted to win.”
FC Bucks kept up its winning ways in pool play, topping the Utah Avalanche 2-1, the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois SLSG-Metro team 2-0, and the East Meadow (N.Y.) Soccer Club 3-2 to win Group B and earn a matchup with the Group A winner, Internationals SC, in the ECNL national title game.
Sacco and her teammates were fired up for the contest, having lost to Internationals in the teams’ last two meetings.
“We really wanted to take it to them,” said Sacco. “Our defense played well. Our goalie made an insane save on a penalty kick with 10 minutes left. Our central defender fouled one of their girls in the box and I was thinking the ref isn’t going to call this with a national title on the line. I was crushed but then our goalie saved it. I had never felt that kind of emotion; that made us fly the last 10 minutes of the game.”
In Sacco’s view, the emotional connection between the FC Bucks’ players helped the club prevail.
“It is the bond,” said Sacco. “Honestly, the teams at this level can be pretty cutthroat. We are really close. We support each other and push each other.”
Looking ahead to her final season with Hun, Sacco and close friend Maziarz are hoping to push the Raiders to a championship campaign.
“For Ashley and me, one of the biggest things is to motivate everyone to go out and play hard every game,” said Sacco, who will be serving as a co-captain of the squad along with Maziarz.
“The summer is important, we have been having captain’s practices. I think the biggest thing is working hard and working together. Even if we don’t have the most talent, I think we have the heart. Last year, the freshmen and sophomores had to play and they stepped up. We told them they could do it and they got better and better.”
Sacco is excited about going to Lehigh to play at the next level. “They have a great engineering program and I am thinking about chemical engineering,” said Sacco, who will continue her partnership with Maziarz as she is also heading to Lehigh and will play for the soccer team.
“You know how they say you will be walking at a school and you can see yourself going there, that is how I felt when I was on campus. I did a camp after I had decided and I thought I can see myself playing on this field. It is great to have it over with; we still have to work hard at everything this year.”