SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A Santa Maria-based 18-and-under girls soccer team has a shot to win a national championship.
"It's big," said Aztecs head coach Ulises Alvarez. "Only four teams in the nation qualify."
To earn a trip to the prestigious tournament, the Aztecs qualified by winning the recent U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Presidents Cup last month in Norco.
A 1-0 victory in the title game over the Broomfield Blast SC Magista from Colorado punched the Aztecs ticket to Tennessee.
"It's a huge accomplishment for us and the city," said Alvarez. "It's never been done before here, a local team from Santa Maria to reach where we're at."
The Aztecs have been competing together for the past year-and-a-half.
According to Alvarez, they have lost only two games.
Players say they have formed a close knit bond despite the fact that players all come from various high schools from around the Santa Maria Valley, including a few others from Nipomo, San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield.
They add their undeniable chemistry is a big reason why they have earned so much success.
"Our team is really close to each other and we put our heart into the game," said Hayde Gallardo of Nipomo High School. "We always want to help each other, do our best on the field and be each other's backbone. I think everybody does it for each other."
Coincidentally, the team's run to a possible national title comes at the same time women's soccer is in the international spotlight.
Over the past month, the World's World Cup has been played in France, with games earning high television ratings and significant media attention.
"I think it's like another support system," said recent Santa Maria High School graduate Araneg Leon. "We see how far the U.S. team has gone and we kind of use as motivation to look for our own goals. I think our goals are very motivated right now, towards nationals, towards soccer itself and towards playing soccer in the future at a higher level."
In Tennessee, the Aztecs will play a minimum of four games, taking on teams from New Jersey, Texas and Minnesota.
The team's first game will be Thursday, July 11 versus Rage FC of El Paso, Texas.
"I feel like the team knows what we need to do and we know that we are going to be there to take care of business, so I feel like we're ready," said Mecealea Lopez, who plays at Orcutt Academy. "If we keep our composure and we keep doing what we know how to do, my team will be champions in Tennessee."
The U.S. Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup runs July 11-14.