By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
Saugus All-stars GU14 concluded their terrific playoff run just short of the state cup while concurrently playing in their core team’s playoffs.
After the fall AYSO season concludes, the coaches from every team pick players and coaches for an all-star team. This year, the GU14 selected John Carey to be the head coach of the all-stars.
Carey’s core team, the Crushers, finished first in Saugus at 7-2-1, earning them a trip to area playoffs where the team did well but came up just short of advancing to sectionals.
The head coach, along with assistant coach Angelo Perez, selected the following all-stars:
Xochilth Baca, Natalie Carey, Atalya Cooper, Maya Denison, Maddie Finkbiner, Gianna Gerson, Allie Kang, Ashley Keller, Kadin Oates, Kingsley Perez, Chloe Perez, Sadie Romick, Chloe Santa Cruz and Aileen Silver.
“The girls are such a cool collection of personalities,” said Carey. “Some shy, some life of the party, but all just fun, great kids from fantastic families. And they just came together as a team so well.”
The all-star team started practicing in December, before commencing area playoffs in January. These playoffs went on parallel to the core area tournament, leaving six all-stars playing in several games in two different tournaments for weekends at a time.
Saugus stormed through the area playoffs, beating all-star teams Valencia, 3-1, Castaic, 4-0, and Canyon Country, 2-1.
The girls were led by striker Finkbiner, who Carey described as super fast with a monster strike. Finkbiner led the team in goals but will be remembered as an outstanding leader.
“Her spirit and enthusiasm was matched by none, and really pumped up the girls and brought them together,” said Carey. “She led by example with her nonstop motor and was always encouraging the other players. There is no quit in her.”
The girls unfortunately dropped the championship game in a rematch with Canyon Country, thus finishing second in the area. However, Saugus’ play throughout the tournament earned them a spot in the Sectionals in Bakersfield.
The girls were upset with the loss and wanted more, but proud of their accomplishment of making it to the Section 10 Championship Tournament. The team was anxious for another shot at facing Canyon Country again in the medal rounds.
“What an impressive run for each girl to just get this far,” said Carey. “They had to first do well enough in their regular core season to be selected to the all-star team.”
Saugus drew into group A at Sectionals, alongside all-star teams from Santa Barbara, Phelan and Chatsworth. The team would face each opponent once in one day and only one winner would go onto day two at Sectionals.
The girls already had their eyes set on winning their group but Carey added in some fun incentive. The head coach promised to dye his hair blue for that day if they won the group.
After winning their opener with Phelan 1-0, Saugus fell to Santa Barbara, 2-1.
Saugus would need to beat Chatsworth at least 3-0 and have Phelan shut out Santa Barbara to advance. The stars aligned for the Saugus all-stars as they beat Chatsworth 3-0 and Phelan shut out Santa Barbara 2-0, giving Saugus a one-point victory in the group.
Romick registered yet another clean sheet. The super keeper was a wall in the goal for Saugus and a crucial part of the team’s success.
Oates was also a big part of this clean sheet along with the rest. The defensive star played smart and tough but always with a smile on her face.
The team was amped to rematch with Canyon Country in the next round but unfortunately Granada Hills eliminated the Canyon Country squad.
Saugus and Granada Hills would be intense and need penalty kicks to decide a winner after the two were deadlocked 2-2. Saugus eliminated Granada Hills 4-2 in PKs, advancing to the title game.
Lompoc would manage to blank Saugus and win the Section 10 championship game 2-0. Saugus had some chances and just couldn’t get the ball between the posts but Carey was still in awe of his team’s journey.
“They showed what it meant to be a team, to play for each other, selflessly and as one,” said Carey. “They gave absolutely everything they had, even when the odds were stacked against them. They never gave up.”
Saugus came up just short in their section, an area consisting of about 25 million people stretching from Central California down through Los Angeles and out to the Nevada border.
Carey’s team can all hang their hats on finishing a fantastic season and continuing to help the sport grow.
“I could not be more proud of this group. I will miss this team greatly. They are forever burned into all of our memory banks. They are the Saugus team that never gave up. I’m truly grateful and honored to have been along for the ride.”