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Youth sports: Local AYSO teams make state

Youth soccer teams advance to California championship

Posted: March 2, 2013 10:45 p.m.
Updated: March 2, 2013 10:45 p.m.

The Saugus U14 team, Saugus Storm, including Brennen Armendariz, Zackary Beliveau, AJ Contreras, Jacob Gandara, Gattlin Griffith, Cameron Guyer, Franklin Juarez, Ivan Lopez, Andrew Nasta, Abraham Ornelas, Josh Padilla, Zachary Phipps and Kemper Petit will compete at the AYSO state tournament. Head coach is Tom Gandara.

 

Even some of the coaches and parents in the community didn’t realize a state championship existed for the American Youth Soccer Organization.

That was until last weekend, when five Santa Clarita Valley teams earned spots at the AYSO California State Championships on March 16-17 in Davis.

According to local league commissioners and coaches, this kind of success is unprecedented for the area’s youth teams who participate in the popular non-profit soccer organization.

“Soccer is just exploding,” said Mike St. Amand, head coach of a Saugus AYSO boys team. “This is a great time for kids their age because I think soccer is getting a lot more notoriety.”

St. Amand coaches a U12 boys team called Orange Outrage, which is one of the locals headed to Davis in two weeks.

It’s one of three Saugus region teams to make the state finals. The other two are the U14 boys Storm team and the U13 girls Crunch team, which will compete in a separate “Extra” tournament.

Two other SCV teams will compete in the Extra tournament, including Valencia’s U14 boys United team and Canyon Country’s U11 girls team

The distinction between the Extra tournament and the standard “League” tournament that the two Saugus teams are taking part in is how the teams are built.

League teams operate under the “everyone plays equal amounts” philosophy while the Extra teams are made up of players who had to try out, similar to a club team.

The League teams earned their spots at the state finals on the weekend of Feb. 23-24, when the two Saugus boys teams won their age group championships at the Section 10 finals in Bakersfield.

The Section 10 finals featured 96 total teams in various age groups, both boys and girls. They represented the best in the section, which covers an area from just south of Fresno down through the San Fernando Valley. The section also reaches as far east as Victorville and stretches west all the way to the coast.

The Saugus U12 boys may have taken the most dramatic approach. In the section championship game against Santa Barbara, Saugus won 5-4 in penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 tie in regulation and going scoreless through two overtime periods

It took six PK attempts by both teams before a winner was decided.

“I couldn’t have written the script any different,” said St. Amand of his Saugus team. “The boys played fabulous.”

Saugus wasn’t the only local region that was well represented in Bakersfield that weekend. Valencia had a U10 girls team that took third place and a U10 boys that came in fourth at the sectional finals.

“I never remember a league team making it (this far) and I couldn’t believe it,” said Joe Franco, commissioner of the AYSO region that covers Valencia and Stevenson Ranch.

It was as far as any Valencia team had reached in at least 10 years, Franco said.

“I was really excited and I told my people,” Franco said. “I wanted them to know it was a big deal.”

As far as the Extra teams, they earned their trips to the state cup based on performances at the section finals a few weeks earlier, on Feb. 8-9, in Camarillo.

“It’s been a rewarding season,” said Robert Benavidez, head coach of Canyon Country’s U11 girls Extra team set to play for a state title. “I think the girls have grown both individually and as a team. I think it’s just icing on the cake that their work has paid off and they can play for a championship.”

Once the teams get to the state tournament, they’ll each play in a bracket of four teams within their age group.

Teams will play two games apiece, which means two victories will lead to a state championship. Each bracket will also feature a third-place game.

The tournament includes teams in age groups ranging from 10-14 in both boys and girls.

In years past, Bakersfield has typically been the end of the line for local AYSO squads.

That’s why some involved didn’t realize it was even possible to move on in the playoffs.

It’s all part of the sport’s upward trend in the area.

“Soccer is pretty interconnected in the (Santa Clarita) Valley,” Benavidez said. “Either you talk about AYSO or high school. I think there’s a culture that has developed a great passion for the game.”

More local teams could potentially qualify for the state finals in Davis. The field for the All-Star AYSO state championships are being determined this weekend at the Section 10 All-Star finals in Bakersfield.

 

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