For the first time in the history of the Payson Elks Soccer Shoot Out program, a Rim country youngster has won an age/sex group Arizona state championship.
"We've been doing it a long time and this is the first one," local Elks member Frank Patch said.
As the Arizona State Soccer Shoot champion in the girls 12- to 13-year category, Ciara Wholly will travel Nov. 30 to the Region Nine championships to be held in St. George, Utah. There she will be pitted against champions from California, Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, Utah and Nevada.
A win in the regional games would propel her into the national championships to be held early next year.
Wholly's road to the regional contest began early this fall, when she won the Payson Elks Soccer Shoot Out. That victory qualified her for sectional competition held last month in Sedona.
In Sedona, Wholly emerged victorious over representatives from other towns and cities around northern Arizona.
With two gold medals packed away, Wholly entered the state championships Nov. 11, sponsored by Phoenix Elks Lodge #2729.
Once again, the Rim Country Middle School eighth-grader kicked her way to the event title. The win made her three-for-three in the soccer shoots.
Although Wholly is the daughter of Payson High School boys soccer coach Roger Wholly, she was not forced into the sport.
"She started playing town league three years ago and came home saying she really liked it," Coach Wholly said. "It kind of took off from there."
Last season, the youngster was a member of the Parks and Recreation-sponsored Mud Dobbers team coached by Randy Wilcox.
Because Wholly has shown steady improvement at each competition thus far, her father said he's confident she can do well in Utah.
In the Payson event, she finished with eight points. At sectionals, she carded 27 points and at state racked up 31.
With the opportunity to someday compete on the national level, Wholly is practicing her skills each day on the Rumsey Park field.
Her strategy is to focus on successful kicks into the two top corners of the goal. Those kicks, if good, are worth an event-high five points.
"It doesn't take many of those to have enough (points) to win," Roger Wholly said.
While young Wholly hones her skills for a chance at soccer stardom, at least one member of the local Elks Lodge has become a huge supporter.
"Good luck, Ciara," Patch said. "Get to the big one."
At the state competition in Phoenix, Payson had another qualifier participate. Nicole Geavaras, the Payson and sectional champion in the 10- to 11-year-old group, finished third at state.