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Shawnee Sports Complex in Dunbar was a hotbed of activity as the Eastern Presidents Cup youth soccer tournament was in full swing earlier this month.

The ending of the 2019 US Youth Soccer Eastern Presidents Cup couldn’t have been more fitting for the West Virginia officials responsible for bringing the tournament to Shawnee Sports Complex.

It truly was a time to celebrate.

In its first tournament at the new Shawnee site, the West Virginia Soccer Association also got to celebrate a first in the group’s history when Empire FC, a Bridgeport-based team, earned a 1-0 win over Premier Soccer Club 12U Girls Gold of Maryland. It came in the final match of the tournament, which wrapped up with championship action at Shawnee after five days between that facility and the Barboursville Soccer Complex.

“It’s been a great week and a lot of fun,” said Dave Laraba, Executive Director of the West Virginia Soccer Association. “Having the last game of the tournament be a West Virginia team playing for a championship, you couldn’t write that script any better.”

After winning Monday’s semifinal with a goal in the final two minutes to advance, Empire FC took an advantage much sooner on Tuesday when forward Ciara McDonald scored less than three minutes into the contest.

That didn’t take the pressure off the West Virginia side, however, as Premier spent the next 50-plus minutes of playing time as the aggressor, attempting to find the equalizer. However, the defensive effort of Empire FC and the clutch play of goalkeeper Keira Klingensmith kept the Maryland representatives out of the net.

Klingensmith demonstrated the toughness of Empire FC. Midway through the first half, she took a cleat to the face while attempting a save, but was able to make the stop and several others to preserve the victory.

“It hurt, but I still played,” Klingensmith said.

Klingensmith’s efforts also embody those within the West Virginia Soccer Association to make sure the tournament ran smoothly throughout the week.

As Laraba said, many don’t know how many different variables go into pulling off a tournament of this magnitude, especially over two different venues.

According to Laraba, it takes communication, calm and preparation for anything.

For example, when officials arrived at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday for the final day of pool play, they found several mangled tents, a result of the damaging storms that ripped through the Huntington and Charleston area late Saturday night.

Then, Tuesday’s final day featured a dilemma of a different kind as a snapping turtle from the area pond near the baseball fields at Shawnee Sports Complex halted soccer activities. For the safety all involved, including the turtle, measures were taken to relocate the snapper back into the pond away from potential visitors.

Laraba couldn’t help but laugh at that cherry on top of the final day of the tournament.

“I can tell you this,” Laraba said. “It’s the first time in my career that I’ve ever dealt with a snapping turtle.”

Samantha Carney, operations director at Shawnee Park, was another party responsible for keeping everything in order this week. Carney said she and her team were pleased with the final product of the facility’s first major national soccer event.

“Obviously, we’re taking direction from USYS and the West Virginia Soccer Association, but a lot of our team is familiar with events, so I feel like we had years of experience as well,” Carney said. “It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s months of planning. When teams are traveling, this is an opportunity for West Virginia to showcase itself.”

Len Rogers, president of the West Virginia Soccer Association, said that the collaboration between officials at Shawnee and Barboursville was a huge success and bodes well for the future of event planning within the state.

“It really wasn’t difficult from the standpoint of working together,” Rogers said. “Their group up there has adapted very well to what needs to happen. It was a great week and now we get to take a deep breath and get ready to do it again in nine days.”

This week’s five-day event brought an $8 million economic impact to the state.

Starting June 28, Barboursville Soccer Complex and Shawnee Sports Complex will again team up to host the US Youth Soccer Eastern Region Championships, which is part of US Youth Soccer’s National Championship Series.

That event brings in more than 225 teams from throughout the Eastern Region and carries an expected economic impact of $20 million during its seven days, according to Rogers.