SeaLions Win 2013 WPSL National Championship

July 30, 2013

The undefeated San Diego SeaLions claimed the 2013 WPSL National Title for the first time in over a decade on Sunday night with a 2-1 win over the Houston Aces in Elk Grove, CA.  Defender Sarah Devine scored two critical goals during the Championship weekend, including the game-winner late in final.

On Saturday night, the SeaLions faced defending champion Gulf Coast Texans in the semi-final. The game was tied at zeros at the end of regulation, and remained scoreless through the first 15-minute period of overtime. Gulf Coast scored in the 117th minute on a goal from Chelsey Williams. As time elapsed, it seemed that the shot at the title that San Diego had been reaching for the past three seasons was quickly slipping through their fingers.

With seconds to go, the SeaLions patiently worked the ball around looking for an opportunity. A ball was played into the box, and center back Sarah Devine got a head on it and redirected it into the back of the net for the equalizer, sending the game into penalties. “Jen put me as a forward because she could sense my energy and desire to win,” recalled Devine. “ The fact that I was able to find the ball in the jumble of players and direct it back toward the net blows my mind. “

After 20 penalty kicks, the contest was still tied, and came down to keeper versus keeper. SeaLions’ goalie Kaycee Gunion stepped up and rocketed her shot past Gulf Coast’s Sarah story and then jumped back into the net.  Story sent her shot straight down the center. Gunion dove to her right, but was able to block the shot with her leg, clinching the SeaLions a spot in the Championship match the very next day.

On Sunday, San Diego played the Houston Aces who had beaten the New England Mutiny 4-1 in the first semi-final of the tournament.

A team in their second year in the WPSL, Houston boasted a roster of paid professional athletes, and like the SeaLions, had just come off of an undefeated season in conference play.

The SeaLions came out determined, and set the tempo immediately.  San Diego pressured Houston, stringing together quick, clean, crisp passes and getting behind Houston’s back line, to create several shot opportunities in the opening minutes.

At the 15-minute mark, a ball was played behind the SeaLions’ defense to Houston’s leading scorer Jackie Acevedo, who was 4 yards offside. Unfortunately, the linesman failed to make the call, and Gunion found herself one on one with Acevedo. Gunion came off her line to block the shot, but Acevedo was able to slip it past her into the back of the net.

Down 1-0, San Diego continued to press. Outside defenders Grace Shevlin and Laura Hogan made excellent runs out of the back to get into the attack, sending in cross after cross, but the SeaLions were unable to finish.

In stoppage time at the end of the first half, Alex Webber was taken down in the box and the SeaLions were awarded a PK. Midfielder Rosie Tantillo stepped up and buried a shot past keeper Catherine Fitzsimmons to even the score.

Early in the second half, Houston had a near opportunity off a corner kick by Dallas Carter. Carter sent a ball in toward the far post. Gunion extended for the save, but the ball grazed her gloves and continued to sail over her hands toward the net. SeaLion midfielder Jessica Wi was waiting on the line and blocked it with her chest, keeping the Aces from getting the lead.  

As the second half wore on, it looked like San Diego was going to head into overtime for the third consecutive time. Prior to Saturday’s semi-final, the SeaLions had beaten Storm Elk Grove in the Regional title match, 2-1 in overtime on goals by Elie Magracia.

With less than two minutes remaining, San Diego was awarded a free kick by the right sideline around the 18. Forward Nikki Petracca set up the shot and played it into the box where it found the head of Sarah Devine who sent it past the hands of Fitzsimmons for the game-winning goal.

“I have never in my life scored 3 times in two games,” Devine exclaimed. “I think it is a testament to the girls and the staff that surround me. The fact that I was able to find the ball in the jumble of players and direct it back toward the net blows my mind. Nikki Petracca and I have known each other since we were 15 years old, and she knows that when I am in the box, I love the floating balls right inside the 6.  She could not have hit it any better, and it was so easy for me to get up and find the back of the net again. I have never won a National Title in all my years of playing soccer. Being able to win this game for our incredible staff means the world to me. They have had my back since the beginning. I think this team is successful because of how much we all want to be playing soccer. We don't get salaries, and we don't get recognition anywhere but in our locker room. I also think the biggest motivation for me was the conversations I had with Judy (Christopher) before the game. We had never gotten a title together and it was time. Playing to get this title for these girls that have put in all this work, that's what it means!”

“Words can't even begin to express how much this win means to me, and to everyone who is a part of this organization,” remarked midfielder Judy Christopher. “It’s something we have been working for the past four years, and the feeling of attaining a goal that you have been working so hard for is the greatest feeling in the world. These girls are not just my teammates they are my family. None of this would have been possible without the bond between the players and the staff. I love this team and this organization, and I can't imagine winning this without any of them.” 

The past two seasons, the SeaLions have made the trip to the Regional playoffs only to lose in the final and miss their shot at the Championships. This year the resilient group claimed it all, representing San Diego to become the number one team in the Nation. The goal of earning the National title was set by coach Lalor-Nielsen and her team at the start of the season, and in the face of great adversity they remained united to reach it.

“There were so many moments that were unbelievable and awe-inspiring,” said Lalor-Nielsen. “Over the last two weekends this team kept believing and never gave up. I have absolutely loved watching them play and coaching them this season. This team plays the game with thought, purpose and passion. Watching them succeed in dramatic fashion in the semi-final and Final game was very special and beautiful to witness. This team from day one always believed, and worked extremely hard for one another. This accomplishment was four years in the making. These girls have been committed and dedicated to making this happen. They have inspired so many people with their passionate play and unbelievable drive to succeed. They are all true champions in every sense of the word!”

SeaLions’ defender Nikki Krzysik, joined the team this season after turning down the opportunity to play for the Seattle Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).  A former captain of the Philadelphia Independence (WPS), Krzysik made two trips to the Women’s Professional Soccer championship with Philly in 2010 and 2011 however, her team did not come home with the trophy. When asked what the win means to her, and how she felt about playing with the SeaLions this season, Krzysik replied, "I am so excited to be part of the WPSL National Championship team. I have really enjoyed being part of a professional atmosphere the last several months. It has been wonderful to still be part of the soccer world at a high level. I am thankful for the SeaLions organization and all that they have done for us this season. I am so proud to have worn a SeaLions jersey and to be a part of this championship team."

SeaLions’ president, assistant coach and former goalie Lu Snyder has been waiting for this day for many years. Snyder was a part of the championship team in 2000, but this was her first time receiving the honor as a coach. "This championship was very special,” said Snyder. “This team is very special. I have never been involved with a team that would fight to the very last second of the game like we did. We didn't do that just once, we did it three times. From our fans to our players and staff, we all believed, trusted and fought for each other, and those are the true signs of what champions are made of."

"We have been dreaming of this for the last three seasons,” said SeaLions’ general manager Amie Becker. “In the face of adversity, and at times when winning seemed next to impossible, this team kept believing, and executed two of the most phenomenal victories I have ever witnessed to get here. I am elated, so incredibly proud, and truly honored to share this moment with all of them."

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