LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s not often that a 16-year-old gets a once-in-a-lifetime experience in sports, but that’s what happened to Lockport native Ava Thompson this summer.
Recently, Thompson was on the winning 15-and-under team at the Gothia Cup — a tournament considered to be the World Cup of youth soccer.
The tournament was held in Sweden in July. The tournament ranges features teams for players aged 12 to 18, amassing over 1,600 teams from around the world. 59 different countries were represented during the 2022 tournament.
Thompson, a junior at Williamsville East High School and starter at center back for the varsity team, was originally placed on the 16-and-under team for a program called FC New England. That program mostly had players from states like Connecticut and New Jersey, but Thompson was also part of that program. There were also players on the squad from Los Angeles, Dallas and Hawaii.
During the tournament, the U15 team suffered some injuries. Being a player who was eligible to play at that level at the time, Thompson was sent to play for that team for the remainder of the tournament. In the championship game at the U15 level, FC New England beat Almhults IF, a Swedish team, 4-0 to clinch the championship. That team beat out over 100 other teams at the U15 level.
In Sweden, Thompson started each of the team’s games at left outside defense. She had a few assists and scored a goal herself during the tournament.
Meanwhile, the U16 team that Thompson was originally on finished sixth in a group of approximately 85 teams. The final game was in a stadium that had about 2,000 spectators, which was more people than Thompson had ever played in front of at a single time. The game was also broadcasted on TV in Sweden. She said that she has watched some of the games back, partly to study her game and partly to watch herself play at that level again.
“I definitely think it was the experience of a lifetime. Not many people get to do that. I was very, very fortunate for all the people who helped me get there,” Thompson said. “It was very in the moment, like ‘is this really real?’ I’ve never played in front of as many people in a stadium how I did.”
She brought up a specific memory from the opening ceremonies, where all of the players walked out with each of their individual country with the national anthem playing, similar to how an opening ceremony at the Olympics would look.
“It was really cool,” she said.
Throughout the tournament, it also allowed her and the other athletes in the United States to see a different type of soccer, with different skills being brought into the tournament than what she has seen previously in her budding career.
“It was definitely the best soccer I think I’ve ever played against, best competition I’ve played against. It was very interesting to see the different styles that were brought over when you go internationally as compared to how the US plays,” she said. “They kind of have a different technique, which was harder to get used to and to make sure you defend that correctly.”
In addition, playing in a tournament like this is something that would be helpful to her in a potential collegiate career. It did get her a college visit, as the coach of the team is an assistant coach at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. She said she expects a lot of her teammates from the tournament will go on to successful college careers.
“The experience definitely gave me an idea of what it’s going to be like,” she said.
Even with that, meeting players from all across the country gave her connections that she can use for a college career as well.
“I’m very fortunate that I’m still in contact with some of the girls I met, just good connections that will last,” she said.
All in all, Thompson is proud to have been part of a winning team that did so at an international level.
“Meeting people from Germany and Ireland and obviously Sweden, it was really cool,” she said. “It was very rewarding to put in the work the two weeks I was there with people I didn’t know, how we all came together and were able to win.”
Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.