Mead’s Union Stadium, usually the setting for prep sport matchups, will be the stage for international competition this week as military teams from around the world are set to compete in the 13th Conseil International Du Sport Militaire Women’s World Cup.
The tournament, also known as the International Military Sports Council, was founded in the wake of World War II. Since 1948, service members from 140 countries have come together to compete in 26 different sports, in competitions hosted around the world.
This year’s women’s soccer championship will be hosted by Fairchild Air Force Base, which selected the newly constructed Union Stadium in Mead as the location for matches.
Admission is free to the public, and games will be held twice a day at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. from Monday through July 21. The bronze-medal game will be on July 22 at noon, followed by the championship at 3 p.m.
Ten countries from almost every continent will be competing, including South Korea, Cameroon and the Netherlands. As the hosts, Team USA will kick off the tournament Monday at 3:30 p.m. as they take on Belgium, followed by Germany versus Ireland at 7 p.m.
Team Germany warms up during practice flanked by flags from Belgium, Cameroon and Canada while the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs hosts team media day, kicking off the 2022 13th Conseil International Du Sport Militaire (CISM) Women’s World Cup at Mead School District’s Union Stadium on Sunday, July 10, 2022 (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Army 1st Lt. Nikiay Comer, a forward for Team USA, said she’s dreamed of representing her country on the international level since she graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2019. Those dreams were put on hold when the pandemic hit, just as she was entering the competitive process of trying out for the team.
This year’s world cup marks the return of the event after COVID-19 restrictions put the tournament on hiatus following the 2019 championship.
Comer played collegiate soccer at West Point during her four years at the school. She said she is excited to be back on the pitch alongside teammates she admires and respects, and said the communities of Spokane and at Fairchild Air Force Base have been very welcoming.
“I’m used to meeting amazing women in the military,” Comer said. “But it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a room with just women who are incredible leaders.”
Air Force Col. Derrick Weyand, the head coach of Team USA, said this year’s roster is made up of 21 women from all branches of the military, several of which played on the Armed Forces team in 2018 and 2019. Weyand has served as head coach since 2017, and was the head coach for the men’s team from 2013-2017.
Weyand said the tryout process started in February with 93 applicants. He and his assistant coach, Air Force Lt. Col. Marci Walton, then selected 40 applicants to attend tryouts in Spokane, which involved practices three times a day for the past three weeks. He said whittling the applicants down to a final roster is always the toughest part, but he is impressed by how much the team has come together in a short amount of time.
“I will tell you, instead of trying to beat up on each other for tryouts, they are actually coming together and communicating and forming that bond they haven’t had for over two years because of COVID,” Weyand said. “This team is special on and off the field, and I don’t think anything’s gonna separate us.”
For Air Force Capt. Kristina O’Sullivan, the tournament also serves as sort of reunion. O’Sullivan, a midfielder, is one of seven women on the team who played together at the highest collegiate level for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. She was also on the team for the past two world cups in 2018 and 2019.
She said it felt “magical” reuniting with her former teammates, as they are all stationed at different bases across the U.S. and overseas.
O’Sullivan added that she has enjoyed playing alongside, rather than competing against, her teammates who played for other military academies. She said the lead-up to the tournament has been both exhausting and exciting, especially with the timing. She returned from a six-month deployment overseas on July 1, and was at practice the very next day.
“This was like the golden light at the end of the tunnel for me,” O’Sullivan said. “Getting to come and play with all the girls has been awesome. It’s been a whirlwind, and I don’t know where the time has gone, but I’m glad to be here and glad to be with a team as awesome as they are.”
This will be Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Scotti Culton’s second time competing in the Conseil International Du Sport Militaire Women’s World Cup. Culton is a defender and was a member of the 2018 team. She said this year’s team is full of energy and passion.
“From day one, we came together and we knew that we wanted to make a difference here and hopefully win the gold, and I really truly feel like we can do that,” Culton said. “Not just because of our skill, but how connected we are as a team.”
Culton has played soccer since she was a little girl, and it was always her dream to represent the United States of America on the international level. She said it is an honor to wear both the Team USA jersey and the service uniform.
“When you’re little and you’re growing up and you have a certain goal to play soccer for Team USA, and then you get to do that but just in a different context, it is so much more impactful,” Culton said.
Culton said she and her teammates are looking forward to the matches, and are expecting some tough competition from their international foes.
“We know all the teams here are going to bring something special, and I really think this is going to be a different tournament, something no one’s ever seen,” Culton said. “We’re kind of like a little spring right now and we’re ready to just open up and showcase all of the effort and the work and the intensity that we brought. We really are ready to put on a show.”
Editor’s Note: Due to a source error, a previous version of this story contained an incorrect start time for the tournament. The games start at 3:30 p.m.