GRANDVILLE, MI - The Grand Rapids FC Women faced an uphill battle in both games of the 2017 United Women’s Soccer (UWS) Championship at Grandville High School and in the end, reached the summit. The GRFC Women (12-1-1) came back from an early deficit and forced extra time for the second straight match in tonight’s UWS National Final against the defending UWS champion Santa Clarita Blue Heat (9-1), notching two goals in the first overtime session to win by a 3-1 score. With the victory, the first-year organization captured the 2017 UWS Championship title.
The team’s first-ever signing - central defender Michaela Kovacs - was named the 2017 UWS Championship Most Valuable Player. Kovacs scored a late game-tying goal to force a penalty kick shootout in Grand Rapids’ eventual National Semifinal win over Long Island on Friday night and helped hold a skillful Santa Clarita attack to one early goal in Saturday night’s league-clinching tilt. Attendance for tonight’s championship match was a capacity crowd of 1,074 with over 1,800+ fans overall attending the tournament.
“What an amazing weekend and incredible event,” said Grand Rapids FC Head Coach Lewis Robinson. “UWS put on a showcase of women’s soccer tonight. When we got to overtime, we knew our fans would make it 12 players against 11… singing throughout the match. They were incredible.”
“This was an incredible tournament,” said UWS Commissioner Joe Ferrara, Jr. “The games were absolutely ridiculous and the atmosphere was as electric as I’ve ever seen. Women’s soccer ruled this night!”
The Blue Heat came out of the gates on a mission to win back-to-back UWS titles and in the 14th minute, converted on a beautifully-built up passing sequence. Forward Carolina Venegas sent in forward Deyna Castellanos on the left flank and the Florida State University star served in a right-footed cross to the back post. Forward Kodi Lavrusky skillfully one-timed her volley past GRFC goalkeeper Reilley Ott for the early 1-0 lead. But Grand Rapids responded right away, as forward Lizzie Paul capitalized on a Lavrusky miscue to send midfielder Marti Corby in on goal. Corby fired her left-footed shot inside the far post past Santa Clarita keeper Ryann Torrero to tie the score at 1-1.
From there, the game settled down into a midfield war with both teams fighting for a quality scoring chance. In the 32nd minute, Lavrusky couldn’t take advantage of a rare defensive mistake from Kovacs while Torrero tipped a shot from Paul away for a corner kick in the 43rd minute. The second half was a back-and-forth encounter with offense coming from long-range shots: the most dangerous of which occurred in the 64th minute when Ott had to tip a Castellanos free kick from 40 yards out over the cross bar for a Blue Heat corner kick. The GRFC keeper snagged a dangerous service by Castellanos from the right flank off the head of Venegas in the 88th minute to preserve the draw going into overtime.
Seven minutes into the first overtime, a long-range free kick from Corby near the center circle was allowed to bounce in the Santa Clarita penalty area. Forward Riko Sagara’s turn and half-volley beat Torrero - who was injured on a collision on the play - for the eventual game-winning goal. The Blue Heat almost tied the match at 2-2 in the 103rd minute, but Ott tipped Castellanos’ free kick off the cross bar and away from harm. The next minute, midfielder Annie Steinlage won a 50-50 ball and forward Avery Lockwood collected the loose ball. Her pass sent forward Bethany Balcer in on goal and the team’s leading scorer tallied the insurance goal past substitute keeper Jojo McCaskill for the 3-1 final score.
2017 ALL-CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM
F KODI LAVRUSKY (Santa Clarita Blue Heat)
F EVDOKIA POPADINOVA (Detroit Sun FC)
F ERICA MODINA (Long Island Rough Riders)
MF MARTI CORBY (Grand Rapids FC Women)
MF DEYNA CASTELLANOS (Santa Clarita Blue Heat)
MF KIMBERLY MARRA (Long Island Rough Riders)
MF ANNIE STEINLAGE (Grand Rapids FC Women)
D NATALIE KUIKKA (Santa Clarita Blue Heat)
D MICHAELA KOVACS (Grand Rapids FC Women) *
D LAUREN SESSELMANN (Santa Clarita Blue Heat)
GK REILLEY OTT (Grand Rapids FC Women)
* Championship MVP
About United Women’s Soccer (UWS): UWS is a national women’s soccer league sanctioned by U.S. Soccer through the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA). UWS is a professionally operated league created for teams that meet high minimum standards. The season runs from May until the end of July, culminating in a National Championship match. The UWS player pool is comprised of college players, aspiring & former professionals and international stars. You can follow UWS on social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Media can contact UWS Director of Communications Jorma Kansanen by e-mail at UWSPress@gmail.com. You can visit the league’s official website at UWSSoccer.com. Interested team applicants can contact League Commissioner Joe Ferrara, Jr. by e-mail at Joe@UWSSoccer.com.