The Santa Clarita Blue Heat fought and fought against a staunch Grand Rapids defense, but upon the final whistle in extra time, reality set in. The local pro-am team had fallen to Grand Rapids FC 3-1 on Saturday in the United Women’s Soccer Championship in Grandville, Michigan. “It just didn’t hit you until that final whistle,” said defender Lauren Sesselmann. “Going into overtime, we never expected it, but I don’t think either team expected it. Sometimes that’s the nature of sports.” Santa Clarita, who entered as the defending UWS national champions, struck first, with Kodi Lavrusky scoring off in the 14th minute for a 1-0 lead. Grand Rapids quickly countered with a goal from Marti Colby after a disrupted Blue Heat play. “I have to hand it to them,” Sesselmann said. “They came in prepared defensively. They covered all the bases well so hats off to them. We were just as prepared. The thing that hurt us was our own mistakes.” After a second half filled with midfield battles, Grand Rapids scored the go-ahead goal on a free kick from the center circle just seven minutes into overtime. Blue Heat goalkeeper Ryann Torrero was injured on the play, causing Jojo McCaskill to take her place. In the 104th minute, leading Grand Rapids scorer Bethany Balcer secured the win with a goal in the 104th minute.
Sesselmann, Lavrusky, midfielder Deyna Castellanos and defender Natalie Kuikka were each named to the All-Championship Team. “Four people, that’s amazing from our team,” Sesselmann said. “It just goes to show you the kind of coaching we had and all the talent. I think everyone on our team deserves to be on it. I think our team is so talented.” Sesselmann, a former Canadian national team and National Women’s Soccer League player, was grateful for the experience – win or lose. Coming off of an ACL injury and unsure of her soccer future, former Sesselmann was in a tough spot. When Santa Clarita Blue Heat offered her an opportunity, she wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to the level of play. What she got was an electric Blue Heat experience, complete with a trip to the UWS final. “We worked so hard to get to this level,” said Sesselmann. “But it just adds fuel to next year. I have no idea what’s going to happen with my own career or the career of the other girls. But I’m hungry and I’m ready to come back and compete again.”