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Article updated: 2/6/2013 5:26 PM

Partnership benefits local soccer players

By Dave Oberhelman

The relationship between club sports and high school athletic programs does not have to be adversarial.

On Wednesday 20 members of the Team Chicago Academy-Botafogo girls soccer club team, all of whom are seniors playing for their respective high schools, signed National Letters of Intent to programs as successful as UCLA, Wake Forest and Notre Dame.

"One of the neat things in it, too, is all these kids play high school soccer," Elite Academy director, coach and Naperville resident Phil Nielsen said.

Team Chicago Academy was formed by Hudson Fortune, whose dual-citizen daughter, Leah, starred at Wheaton Academy, played on the Brazilian National Team and in 2011 helped Lee University win the NAIA title a fourth straight time. Botafogo staff include Phil Nielsen, Neuqua Valley girls coach Joe Moreau, Metea Valley boys coach Josh Robinson and Pete Lambert, an assistant on Julie Bergstrom's Waubonsie Valley girls team. Bergstrom is also involved.

"I don't believe that there's a club team out there in the country this year that has a more impressive list of schools that their players are committing to," Nielsen said.

In January in Orlando, Under-18 Botafogo became just the third girls team in history to go unbeaten, 7-0-0, in the U.S. Youth Soccer National League. Over the current season the girls are 23-0-1. In 2011-12 at U17, Botafogo finished third at the USYS Nationals.

According to Nielsen, members of the Class of 2013 who signed letters of intent from Botafogo included: Class 3A state champion Naperville North's Zoe Swift (Kentucky); Waubonsie Valley's Rachele Armand (Louisville), Karla DiJohn (Notre Dame), Jenna Romano (Wake Forest) and Kendall Wilde (Illinois-Chicago); Neuqua's Zoey Goralski (UCLA), Hope D'Addario (Illinois), Gianna Dal Pozzo (Miami, Fla.) and Brooke Ksiazek (Illinois State); York's Bryce Banuelos (West Virginia); Metea's Kiley Dunning (IUPU-Fort Wayne) and Megan Geldernick (Ohio State); Wheaton Warrenville South's Dana Miller (Miami, Ohio); Hinsdale Central's Darby Moran (Wisconsin-Parkside); and Glenbard South's Dani Pitaro (DePaul).

He said he'd rather work with high school coaches and programs than fight them. Nielsen appreciates the social and leadership development high school programs provide, the different setting, the greater press coverage and fan support.

"We were third in nationals last year," Nielsen said, "and none of those (games) came close to the fans who go see Waubonsie Valley-Neuqua Valley or Wheaton Warrenville South-Wheaton North."

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