By John Williams:
Their dream is to bring a National Youth Soccer Championship to Buffalo. In 95 degree heat for 120 minutes, the Invaders went toe to toe with the #1 ranked team in the country. If they could make it through this Region I semi final game, their finish line was very much in sight. But with 5 minutes to play in the 2nd overtime, a trick set play executed to perfection resulted in the game winning goal against them. Minutes later the final nail was put in to their National Championship dreams as their opponents took advantage of their desperate play and added a final minute insurance goal…
The #1 ranked FC Pennsylvania Strikers had not suffered a loss in 11.5 months; they had carved up opponents in the National League, Region I league, state championship play and then in the National Championship series – if they win their final two games it will be as dominant season as Elite Youth Soccer has seen – and they’ll remember their last minute escape against a Buffalo team as their greatest test of the year – and for the Invaders, it will always be what might have been.
The Buffalo Soccer Academy Invaders had long since written their legacy as the best youth club soccer team in Buffalo history. Playing in the most difficult age group in NYSWYSA history, the Invaders recently captured their third straight state championship and their fourth in the past six years. Prior to the Invaders, no team from WNY had ever won back to back championships nor had any exceeded two total championships. The Invaders are also the only team from WNY to be ranked in the top 10 in the country’s National Rankings, the only team to play in the prestigious National League, and the only team to reach the Region I Championship game.
The team’s evolution is atypical – unlike all the teams they play against who evolved as “all star” teams, the Invaders grew up as a travel soccer team playing out of Delaware Park – the Delaware Soccer Club Invaders. As the team began travelling to tournaments across the country, the girls tired of being asked where in Delaware they were from – but out of no where a nationally competitive team was growing up out of Buffalo and WNY.
In 2007 as a U13 team they became the 1st and only “club travel team” in the 21st century to win a state championship – it was a team pieced together to have some fun and see how they could do competing against the best – and after shocking others and themselves by winning, they learned on the fly that they were part of a National Championship knock out series – a trip to Maine and more games to go…
In the fall of 2008, Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Legend Rudy Pikuzinski Jr. took over coaching the team, and they became the Buffalo Soccer Academy Invaders. Rudy is the best soccer player in WNY history – perhaps the best indoor soccer player ever…
The parents of the Invader players see him as a better coach than he was a player. The girls grew up together from children to young ladies; in every sense of the word, they became a true team – working and sacrificing to achieve their ultimate goal. Under Rudy’s guidance, the team became a family.
Rudy pushes the girls hard. “If you cut a corner, you are cheating yourself and cheating your teammates.” They are always the fittest team on the field. Practices are much longer than other teams – some times stretching over 2.5 hours. Hard work and dedication are demanded by both their coach and their teammates.
Playing for Rudy is not just about soccer. It is also about life lessons that are learned on the soccer field. Pick up your water bottles; respect your opponents; let your play speak for itself; the importance of family and representing your family; and representing your city – Buffalo!
When you see the girls at practice or away from the field, you will notice them all wearing a bracelet that reads “IBB.” It is also on every soccer ball the team has ever owned. It stands for “I Bleed Buffalo” – when this team plays a game, they are representing their city with the very best effort they have.
Team members include Gabby Balseca, Emma Bracken, Brittany Brown, Nikki Charboneau, Rachel Cook, Tori Corsaro, Kristi DeLabio, Zoe Jackson-Gibson, Alexis Koral, Lexi Kroese, Marissa Lombard, Jenna Panepinto, Lexi Panepinto, Jenny Piaggione, Jenna Raepple, Kori Thorne, and Catherine Williams. They have played in the most competitive age group in NYSYSA history – and they have dominated it.
In a few short weeks, each of the girls will be heading off to college – some for their sophomore year, most for their freshman year. During their time together, they will have won over 40 tournaments and defeated at different times the very best teams from the United States and Canada. They will be remembered for their heart, their passion, their love of the game.
The final chapter of the best youth soccer team from Buffalo is coming to a close. It has been suggested that the team should have merged with other powerful teams from across the state to create a “super power” – in some ways modeled after the Strikers. But those people missed the point. The true championship was the journey the girls took together. It was not in their wins but in their work and their efforts – the sun may be setting on this phase of their lives – but the friendships they made and the life lessons they learned – those will be with them for ever.
And they’ll always remember – IBB – I Bleed Buffalo.