To some, the achievements over the past month by the teams from the SJEB Rush Soccer Academy are looked upon as somewhat of an arrival.
To the leadership of SJEB Rush, it’s just a continuation of the journey. A journey that, over the years, has seen 3 of South Jersey’s most prominent soccer clubs join forces for the achievement of a common goal; keep south jersey players in south jersey.
For close to 20 years a plan has been in place that has evolved, grown, and seen mergers with other successful organizations to reach a point of sustained success. Success that has led, this year alone, to seven state titles, a pair of regional finals and a US Club Soccer national title on the boys’ side followed by a US Youth Soccer Association national title on the girls’ side one week later.
There is no argument that is one impressive collection of silverware but for Cliff Simmons, who all the way back in 1996 was a big part in the inception of the original South Jersey Barons D3 team, it’s by no means the end of the road.
“Certainly we are thrilled,” said Simmons, who has a long history of success in South Jersey where he played for Edgewood High School (now Winslow) and was a member of the Courier-Post All-Century team in the fall of 1999. “It’s hard to imagine a better group of performances across the board to end the year.
“But this is not the culmination of 20 years. This is just a start. Our goal has always been the same and this run of success doesn’t change that. We are only looking to move forward.”
For the SJEB Rush program, the most important thing is this run of titles, including the two national titles, were won by both the girls’ side and by the boys’ side of the coin.
“We get a lot of recognition for the girls’ side of our club. We have a very strong program on that side,”Simmons said. “But we have built just as much on the boys’ side. We have the same mission for the boys as we do for the girls and we have the same mission we started out with all the way back into the 1990’s.”
The two recent National Championships are proof positive that SJEB Rush is succeeding in their mission.
The SJEB Rush 01 Boys Academy team ended a strong spring with the first US Club Soccer National Championship in club history. The boys backed up their first USCS NJ State Cup title this past June with a national championship crown during a wild week at the USCS Nationals in Aurora, Colorado.
The boys’ team, led by, among others, Eastern High School’s Phl Varner and Delsea’s Frank Knapp, made it through a tough schedule and won the title against NEFC 01 NPL in a game that went down to penalty kicks.
One week later, the 02 Girls’ Academy team ventured to Frisco Texas, where Bishop Eustace’s Erin Sullenberger scored in extra time for a 2-1 overtime win in the final against La Roca which hailed from Utah. Goalkeeper Alexandria Clark was named to the National Championships’ best 11 and won the golden glove award as the best keeper of the tournament.
“Will all this success help us over the next few years – yes,” Simmons said. “But it doesn’t change our mission. We have always wanted to help South Jersey players stay in South Jersey and get the type of training and experience that fits what they want to accomplish.
“The more players and success we have at the national level the more success we will have as a pathway to help players in South Jersey become top-level high school, collegiate and even national level players.
“Players no longer have to look outside of South Jersey to play at the levels that will help them achieve their goals. We are not about helping North Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland or Delaware. We are focused on building success for South Jersey players and we are not just a girls’ club, not just a boys’ club.”
So much so that SJEB Rush has now been identified as one of the top developmental clubs in the Nation by US Soccer. In May 2018, SJEB Rush Soccer Academy was awarded US Soccer Girls Development Academy status by US Soccer. They are now recognized as one of the top 69 clubs in the United States for player development.
All of which means the next 20 years look to be an exciting journey for a club that remains South Jersey’s club.