EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - This past season in the West Conference of United Women’s Soccer (UWS), the race for the title was most likely one of the most dramatic ever seen at the pro-am level of the sport. Three teams were in the running to be West champions going into the final weekend of the season, with the Santa Clarita Blue Heat (4-1-3) emerging victorious after the Houston Aces drew 2-2 with the Colorado Pride in the last conference game. Santa Clarita will host the East Conference champions New Jersey Copa F.C. (8-1-1) this Saturday in the final battle for the league crown.
The way the Blue Heat opened the 2016 West slate in Houston on May 21, the casual observer must have thought they would run away with the West title. Kodi Lavrusky would be named UWS West Offensive Player of the Week for her two-goal performance in the dominating win over the Aces. That result signaled a call of intent to the rest of the conference, and they would in turn respond as Santa Clarita went 0-1-2 in their next three games. Two 1-1 draws against the Colorado Storm and Real Salt Lake Women would be followed by a 4-3 loss to the Aces in their rematch on June 18th.
But after that home loss to Houston - where they held a 3-1 lead in the second half - the Blue Heat responded and went undefeated in their last four games. They took down West contenders RSL by a 2-1 score in the next game, and outscored their opposition by an 11-5 margin in their 2-0-1 regular season finish. Santa Clarita would have four of the top 5 scorers in the West, with Kasandra Massey leading the way (five goals, three assists). Chloe Castaneda (team-leading four assists) would be named the UWS West Player of the Year and she, Massey, Kelsey Gudgeon and Yadira Toraya would make the All-West First Team.
For all their guile, team work and veteran leadership, the Real Salt Lake Women (4-2-2) just could not put enough wins together this season. And that is a head-scratcher as RSL Head Coach Mark Davis had a great command of his team (five players were named All-West) and was recognized by his peers as UWS West Coach of the Year. But, unfortunately he & his team had to sit & watch as the title was decided, since they were the first West team to complete their campaign. The Real Women were one of the three teams that still had a chance at the conference title going into the final weekend, but they would have to settle for a second-place finish.
RSL opened with a disappointing 1-0 loss to Houston on May 28, who had just been the victim of a tough defeat to the Blue Heat. After that result, they would take the lead in the West race, going 3-0-1 and out-scoring their opponents by a 10-5 margin. A 2-1 loss at Santa Clarita on June 25th stalled their momentum, and than they suffered a result that truly ended their shot at the title. On June 29th vs. the Storm at home, RSL had the lead and were playing against 10 players (due to a Colorado red card) but allowed a late second-half stoppage time goal in the 1-1 draw. In hindsight, a win would’ve captured the West crown.
The Houston Aces (4-3-1) were the team that threw a wrench into the plans of Santa Clarita and Real Salt Lake, as they would rebound from a 1-0-3 start to the season and make a late title run. After their season-opening loss, Houston held a determined RSL team at bay and left Utah like a bandit in the night. Two losses to RSL and the Pride would follow before they went on a 3-0-1 run to end their 2016 slate. The Aces had a 2-1 lead over the Pride at home in the season finale, but the visitors scored a late equalizer in the 2-2 draw which scuttled Houston’s title hopes. The trio of Tatiana Ariza, Isabella Echeverri Restrepo and Courtney Seelhorst would be named to the All-West Team.
After two very successful seasons in the now-defunct W-League, the Colorado Pride (2-4-2) started their UWS West campaign with two wins over their in-state rival Storm. But after a strong start, the Pride would suffer losses to the Aces & the Real Women and returned to a .500 record. They would have nearly a month off until their next match at RSL on July 7th, and it showed in a 5-0 loss. With three games left, they still had a chance to win the topsy-turvy West race with three wins but instead went 0-1-2. They would still get a tip of the cap from the league office after all was said and done, as Lexi Long, Kaitlyn Johnson and Mariel Gutierrez made the All-West Team.
No other team was more indicative of the week-in, week-out high level of competition in the West than the Colorado Storm (1-5-2), who despite finishing in last-place still only had a -8 goal differential. Any mathematically-inclined soccer fan can theorize that after a eight game schedule that means you’re giving your opponents all they can handle. After a 0-2-1 start to the season, the Storm would defeat Houston by a 2-1 score at home on June 10 for their lone win of 2016. Olivia Blaber would be named UWS West Offensive Player of the Week for her game-winner. In the end, the defensive duo of Elle Sweeney and Alexandra Huynh were selected to the All-West Team.
WEST CONFERENCE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Kodi Lavrusky - Santa Clarita Blue Heat (Offensive)
Lexi Long - Colorado Pride (Defensive)
Paige Hayward - Houston Aces (Offensive)
Courtney Seelhorst - Houston Aces (Defensive)
Elena Medeiros - Real Salt Lake Women (Offensive)
Beth Plentl - Colorado Pride (Defensive)
Tatiana Ariza - Houston Aces (Offensive)
Olivia Blaber - Colorado Storm (Offensive)
Rebecca Ritchie - Real Salt Lake Women (Defensive)
Tatiana Ariza - Houston Aces (Offensive)
Jessica Vanderveur - Real Salt Lake Women (Offensive)
Stephanie Ringwood - Real Salt Lake Women (Defensive)
Chloe Castaneda - Santa Clarita Blue Heat (Offensive)
Yadira Toraya - Santa Clarita Blue Heat (Defensive)
NO WEEKLY AWARD
Kira Sharp - Real Salt Lake Women (Offensive)
Kelsey Gudgeon - Santa Clarita Blue Heat (Defensive)
Julia Hernandez - Santa Clarita Blue Heat (Offensive)
Kasandra Massey - Santa Clarita Blue Heat (Offensive)
Mykiaa Minniss - Colorado Pride (Defensive)
Media can contact UWS Director of Communications Jorma Kansanen by e-mail at Press@UWSSoccer.com. You can visit the league’s official website at UWSSoccer.com. Interested team applicants can contact League Commissioner Joe Ferrara by e-mail at Joe@UWSSoccer.com.
EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The 2016 regular season has concluded in United Women’s Soccer and its the time of the year to announce the end-of-season awards for each conference. The first conference to finish their slate of games was the West, and the league office has officially announced the 2016 UWS All-West Team. The Santa Clarita Blue Heat (4-1-3) and Real Salt Lake Women (4-2-2) lead the way, with both teams highlighting the All-West First Team and individual honors as well.
Santa Clarita midfielder Chloe Castaneda has been named the UWS West Player of the Year, while RSL’s Mark Davis & Rebecca Ritchie are the UWS West Coach of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively.
The Blue Heat had four out of the top five scorers in the West Conference this year, and with thanks going to Castaneda for her overall play in the midfield. Skillful over the ball as well as hard in the tackle, the UCLA sophomore opened up the space for the Santa Clarita attack which was the best in the conference (28 goals scored) while she also led the team in assists (4). Chloe will play a huge role for the West champions when they host the East champion New Jersey Copa F.C. this Saturday at The Master’s College.
“I’m super grateful for the opportunity I've had to play for the Blue Heat this summer,” said Castaneda. “This season wouldn't have been possible without such an amazing team and coaching staff! I can't wait to play for the Championship on Saturday!”
The Real Salt Lake Women were one of (if not) the best showcase as far as teamwork is concerned in all of UWS this season, and with credit going to Head Coach Mark Davis. His brilliant use of team depth and in-game tactical adjustments were keystones to RSL’s success. Even though they missed out on winning the West title by mere minutes, his collaborative approach to coaching was respected by the conference coaches as he received the most votes.
“I am super excited to be rewarded in a league with such great coaches,” said Davis. “It is such an honor. My players at RSL played extremely hard every week, every session and it was a real honor to coach them this year.”
Rebecca Ritchie is one of the veteran team leaders that RSL Head Coach Mark Davis relied on this year. Ritchie has been around the block in women’s soccer: a Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP for Weber State; a national champion for the Boston Aztec Breakers Reserves in the WPSL; and now, the 2016 UWS West Defensive Player of the Year for the Real Women. She led the top defense in the West and was named Defensive Player of the Week on June 14th.
“I’m honored to accept this award on behalf of our entire back line,” said Ritchie. “We really tried to work together as a defensive unit the entire season. I am proud to be part of such a great team and am already looking forward to next season!”
2016 UWS All-West Conference First Team
F KASANDRA MASSEY - Santa Clarita Blue Heat
F KAITLYN JOHNSON - Colorado Pride
MF TATIANA ARIZA - Houston Aces
MF MICHELE MURPHY VASCONCELOS - Real Salt Lake Women
MF CHLOE CASTANEDA - Santa Clarita Blue Heat
MF KIRA SHARP - Real Salt Lake Women
D KELSEY GUDGEON - Santa Clarita Blue Heat
D NATALIE NORRIS - Real Salt Lake Women
D LEXI LONG - Colorado Pride
D YADIRA TORAYA - Santa Clarita Blue Heat
GK REBECCA RITCHIE - Real Salt Lake Women
2016 UWS All-West Conference Honorable Mention
F JESS VANDERVEUR - Real Salt Lake Women
MF ISABELLA ECHEVERRI RESTREPO - Houston Aces
MF MARIEL GUTIERREZ - Colorado Pride
D ELLE SWEENEY - Colorado Storm
D ALEXANDRA HUYNH - Colorado Storm
GK COURTNEY SEELHORST - Houston Aces
Coach Of The Year
MARK DAVIS - Real Salt Lake Women
Player Of The Year
CHLOE CASTANEDA - Santa Clarita Blue Heat
Defensive Player Of The Year
REBECCA RITCHIE - Real Salt Lake Women
“Iron Woman” Of The Year (Most Minutes Played For Her Team)
Santa Clarita Blue Heat - KELSEY GUDGEON
Real Salt Lake Women - NATALIE NORRIS / BIZZY PHILIPS / KATIE RIGBY
Houston Aces - SHAUNA PEARE
Colorado Pride - LEXI LONG
Colorado Storm - ELLE SWEENEY
HOUSTON ACES 2, COLORADO PRIDE 2
HOUSTON, TX - The race for the West Conference title in United Women’s Soccer (UWS) came down to the final game of the regular season on Sunday night, when the Houston Aces hosted the Colorado Pride at Houston Sports Park. Houston (4-3-1) needed to win the game to capture the West crown, while the Pride (2-4-2) could once again fulfill the role of spoilers. The visitors did just that, as the Pride’s leading scorer Briana Rohmer netted the equalizer in second-half stoppage time and broke Aces hearts in the 2-2 draw.
With that result, the Santa Clarita Blue Heat were awarded the West title and the right to host the 2016 UWS National Final the weekend of July 30-31. Santa Clarita will take on East champion New Jersey Copa F.C. in the inaugural championship of the national pro-am league. Full information on the 2016 UWS National Final will be released in the coming days.
Houston came out of the gates firing on all cylinders in this match, pressuring Colorado’s defense and forcing Pride goalkeeper Katie Ruff into three early saves. The visitors would respond in the 21st minute, when Lauren Milliet converted Kaitlyn Johnson’s service into a goal. The Aces would again exert themselves on attack, and it would pay off in the 41st minute. After a Pride turnover, Gisela Arrieta Bettencourt fired a 20-yard shot past Ruff for the equalizing goal.
Shortly after halftime in the 51st minute, Houston took the 2-1 lead they needed when a direct kick by Lindsay South Hamner ricocheted off the crossbar and Paige Hayward cleaned up the rebound. Time ticked away and the play between both teams became frantic. Four minutes of stoppage time was announced and it took the Pride three minutes to disappoint the hosts. Milliet again was key as she slotted a ball behind the defense, and Rohmer ran onto it and connected for the final score.
SANTA CLARITA BLUE HEAT 4, COLORADO PRIDE 2
SANTA CLARITA, CA - On Friday night at The Master’s College, the Santa Clarita Blue Heat had only one scenario to win the West title and that was to emerge victorious over the Colorado Pride and than hope Sunday night’s result in Houston would go their way. Everything fell in place for them in their last regular season game, as the Blue Heat (4-1-3) scored the first two goals of the match and fended off a Pride comeback bid in the 4-2 victory.
Santa Clarita knew they needed the win and started the match on the front foot. Their strong start to the match was rewarded in the 22nd minute. Chloe Castaneda fed Julia Hernandez in on goal and she flicked her shot over the head of Pride goalkeeper Kaylyn Smith for the opening goal. Four minutes later, the Blue Heat were awarded a free kick wide out on the left flank. Kelsey Gudgeon fired her shot on goal inside the far post for the 2-0 lead.
The Pride would slowly get into the match, and halved the score in the 38th minute. Colorado got a free kick just outside the penalty area, and Kaitlyn Johnson’s attempt at goal could not be corralled by Santa Clarita keeper JoJo McCaskill. Defender Mykiaa Minniss finished off the rebound for the 2-1 score going into halftime. The game would go back and forth to start the second half, and the visitors would tie the score at 2-2 in the 60th minute.
Minniss pushed forward in transition and got on the end of a pass from Madison Wiegand Brown to score the equalizing goal. Eight minutes later, the home side would get the game-winner as Hernandez notched her second goal of the match as she headed in Kasandra Massey’s well-fashioned cross for the 3-2 lead. Massey would net the insurance goal in the 86th minute for her team-leading 13th point of the season.
HOUSTON ACES 2, COLORADO STORM 0
HOUSTON, TX - The Houston Aces forced the West title race to go to the conference’s last regular season match of the season on Friday night at Houston Sports Park. Two first half goals powered the hosts over the Colorado Storm (1-5-2), who also had to deal with the ejection of their Head Coach Brian Haynes in the 40th minute of play. Hopefully it wasn’t a bitter end for the Storm to their UWS West campaign, as even though they finished in last place, they were a handful for every opponent they faced this season.
Houston scored the first goal in the 30th minute, as Gisela Arrieta Bettencourt converted on a pass from Paige Hayward for the 1-0 lead. Two minutes later, Nicole Haimes notched her first tally of the season on an assist from Mariana Diaz Leal Arrellaga. The 2-0 lead would last the remainder of regulation and the Aces would go on to Sunday’s penultimate match against the Colorado Pride with an opportunity to win the West Conference championship.