WICHITA, Kan. — A national championship is coming home to Yellowstone County.
The Billings United U19 girls soccer team beat the Paisley Athletic Academy of New Jersey 2-1 (3-2 in PK's) Monday morning in Wichita, Kansas, to win the title at the National President's Cup, one of the most prestigious youth soccer tournaments in the country.
Laurel grad Mya Maack, Montana's all-time leading high school scorer, put Billings in front 1-0 early on in Monday's championship match. Paisley tied the games midway through the second half to force overtime.
Early in the first overtime, Billings was called for a handball in its own box, giving a penalty kick to Paisley. But Billings goalkeeper Maria Ackerman dove to her right and saved it, one of the biggest saves of her career.
At least up to that point.
After no team scored in either overtime, the game went to a penalty shootout where Ackerman — a Billings West grad who will play for Carroll College in the fall — saved three of Paisley's five kicks, including the final two to give Billings the 3-2 win.
"There's goalkeepers that go their whole career and don't make four penalty kick saves. She made four in one game," said Billings head coach Abiye Jack. "And in the regional championship - we went to a shootout in that game as well - she made three saves in that shootout and made a penalty kick save in regulation as well.
"Saving penalty kicks like that is not supposed to be done, but she found a way to do it for the team. It's great she got that moment."
Billings reached the championship by going 2-0-1 in pool play. They beat Tupelo Fútbol Club of Mississippi 3-1 in their opener, which was a huge icebreaker.
"After winning that first game and scoring three goals, it gave everyone some belief going into the rest of it," Jack said.
Teams have to qualify to play in the National President's Cup. Billings United finished second in the Montana State Cup and then won the Regional President's Cup in Boise, Idaho, to punch their ticket to Kansas.
The group has only been playing together since mid-March. Club soccer seasons are often short due to Montana winter weather.
"My message to the team at the beginning of the season was, 'This team is capable of doing something. We just have to commit to it,'" Jack said.