Laurel Soccer Club's United Premier, an under-12 girls' soccer team composed mostly of players from Howard County, won the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Region I tournament in Virginia Beach this month.

The team, which recently ended its affiliation with the Soccer Association of Columbia, won all five games to finish atop a field of 16 teams, which qualified by winning state tournaments.

United Premier, which will move up to U-13 next month, posted victories over teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maine in pool play by a combined score of 10-2. The team then defeated a New Hampshire squad in penalty kicks after playing to a scoreless tie in regulation and 20 minutes of overtime. After both teams made four of their first six penalty kicks, defender Peyton Morris put her team up by a goal, and goalie Tina Maldonado made a diving save to secure the win.

In the final against the Braddock Road Youth Club Azul from Fairfax, forwards Owyn Manson and Sabrina Buteau scored in overtime to lift their team to a 2-1 victory.

Older teams that win regional titles advance to a national tournament, but there is no national title at U-12 play.

Coach Kevin Axenfeld said his team needed a break anyway after going 17-0-2 and winning the Washington Area Girls Soccer Division I regular season title and Maryland State Cup Championship.

"I don't think we could have had a better season because we didn't lose," he said. "It was an incredible season and now we are taking three weeks off to give our girls a break before we start practicing again. We are moving up an age group, so it's going to be a challenge, but we have high hopes for next year."

Lissner Plays in National Open

Centennial junior All-Met Ryan Lissner placed fourth in singles at the U.S. Tennis Association National Open in Manasquan, N.J., last week and will look to win one of the nation's biggest tournaments, the USTA National Clay Court Championships in Rockville this weekend.

Lissner won four of six matches in singles play, then teamed with Matt Beck, an All-Met junior at Bullis, and posted three consecutive doubles victories. But they fell in the final to Robert Wong and Sho Matsumoto of Connecticut, 8-6.

Lissner, who is ranked 27th nationally in 16-and-under by the USTA, will also play doubles this weekend with Beck; their doubles team is ranked 12th in the pair's age group by the USTA.

"This is probably the biggest tournament of the year," said Lissner, who went 22-2 and placed third at the state tournament during the high school season. "I think with the way I am playing right now I can win it, but it's going to be hard since there are going to be close to 200 players in the tournament."

Bechta Is Ready

Columbia Reds center fielder Alex Bechta has been looking forward all season to the National Amateur Baseball Federation's Region IV tournament, which begins today in Sykesville.

The winner of the tournament advances to the Federation's 16-and-under World Series in Northville, Mich., beginning July 28. The Reds won the region tournament last year but made a quick exit in the World Series, losing two of their first three games.

"This is what everything we have done all summer builds up to," said Bechta, a junior at Centennial. "We want to prove that we are one of the best teams in the country. I think we learned a lot after last year, because we weren't ready for the pitching we saw at the World Series last year. We will be more prepared this year because we'll know what to expect."

The Reds, with 12 of 13 players from Howard County, enter the postseason playing their best baseball of the season, Coach Tim O'Brien said. The Reds raised their record to 15-7 after placing fourth out of 32 teams at the Carolina Tournament in Charlotte last week, finishing 5-3.

"I think what makes this team better than last year's team is that we have more balance and we have several good pitchers," said O'Brien, who is also the coach at Long Reach. "That should really work to our advantage in a tournament."

Better Than Expected

Long Reach Coach Al Moraz Jr. had modest expectations for his boys' basketball team when it entered the Rock Summer League, which includes many of the area's top teams.

"I'd be ecstatic if we went .500," Moraz said.

But behind stellar front-court play by seniors Darryl Webb and Daevon Wall, who are each in the top 20 scoring and collectively average 30 points per game, the Lightning is on the verge of making the league's playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The Lightning entered the week 3-4 and needs one victory to clinch one of the division's six playoff spots. But it won't be easy. The Lightning was scheduled to face Bishop McNamara and Georgetown Prep earlier this week before closing out the regular season against Gonzaga tomorrow at 7:50 p.m. at High Point.

Long Reach entered the week in fourth place behind Eleanor Roosevelt (6-1), Laurel (6-1) and Mount St. Joseph's (4-3) and has a one-game lead over Oxon Hill, Springbrook and Blake. The top teams in the other division include O'Connell, DeMatha and St. John's, which have defeated Long Reach this summer.

Last year, Long Reach finished 5-7 after losing in overtime to Mount St. Joseph's in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

"Making the playoffs would be huge for us because the more games we get to play, the better we'll get," Moraz said. "We'll also gain some confidence because we'd have to beat some good teams to get that far."

Centennial's Alex Bechta will play in the National Amateur Baseball Federation's Region IV tournament this weekend in Sykesville.