By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
Two local youth soccer teams reached the sectional tournament of AYSO after a long season consisting mostly of playoff games.
The Neon Ninjas and Hot Shots of the Saugus Santa Clarita G10U region both had longer seasons than expected, filled with big win after win. A normal season of AYSO can entail about 10 games and would go from late-August until November. These teams played nearly 25 each until February.
But the coaches of these young teams were more proud of the friendships built than all the wins they racked up.
The Hot Shots were coached by Saugus alumni Ashley Novick, who has played soccer since she was 4 years old.
“The biggest win is the friendships that came out of our girls,” said Novick. “This season built a lot of lifelong friends between players, parents and coaches. Winning is just a bonus, it’s about the friendship.”
Novick was adamant about building bonds on her team. The Hot Shots’ coach would host team parties where the girls played teamwork games, had play dates, hosted normal practices and sometimes even canceled practice with her team to get ice cream together.
In the regional championship, the Neon Ninjas managed to defeat their local counterpart but the Hot Shots still qualified for sectionals with a second-place finish.
The former Centurion was quick to thank her father for his coaching and involvement with soccer her whole life.
“I wanted to coach when I had kids because my dad always coached me,” said Novick.
The Hot Shots were led by Areli Fattore, who scored the majority of the team’s goals. Fattore was given high praise from her coach, who thinks her star youth player could play in college.
The regional champions, Neon Ninjas, are led by coach Roger Schnurr, someone who Novick considers a mentor.
Schnurr led his Ninjas to a 9-0-0 record and then finished in first place in their regional playoffs. The Neon Ninjas then advanced to the Area 10S playoffs where they blanked two other playoff teams, winning 5-0 and 4-0. Their finish advanced them yet again, this time to the sectional playoffs in Bakersfield.
Schnurr’s team kept winning but eventually all good things must come to an end. The Ninjas fell in a shootout with a chance of heading to the Western States Championships. Schurr was still proud of his team’s performance as any coach would be finishing second in sectionals with roughly 300 other teams.
Team parent Kendall Cain raved over Schnurr’s coaching and was impressed by the coach’s leadership.
“We have had a few coaches in the past,” Cain said. “He is by far the most organized, inspiring, dedicated, caring, respectful, good-natured, effective and informative we have encountered.”
The longtime coach started his season with a pool party followed by water balloon fights, Halloween candy and hot chocolate hangouts throughout the season.
“The kids put in a lot of hard work over the course of the season,” said Schnurr. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Cain also said his daughter on the team has struggled with frustration from mistakes and was always hard on herself. But, at the end of the Ninjas’ season, thanks to Schnurr, she was laughing after being scored on and having fun at the team’s last practice.
The two teams built a little rivalry, playing multiple times in the season and playoffs. But, by the time both reached sectionals, the squads were cheering each other on.
“On and off the field, so proud. Everyone on my team could’ve won the sportsmanship award this year. They cheered each other on,” Novick said.
Every year the AYSO teams are reorganized so the Hot Shots and Neon Ninjas will not get to play as organized teams again.
However, with so many great coaches in the Santa Clarita Valley, like Novick and Schnurr, there are sure to be plenty more dynamic teams that wind up winning a lot of games while building friendships to last a lifetime.