Published Jul 18, 2022
Written By:  Katie Parker
             West Region Championship

California Storm and MISS KICK FC met at historic Kezar Stadium in San Francisco on Sunday to play for the West Region Championship and a shot at the national title.


The Storm came out firing on all cylinders. A high-press and quick-counter style earned the team more time with the ball. Storm controlled most of the match with collective team movement, short passes, strong tackles and a support player nearby in every play. The players had a calm confidence about them on the pitch.


The San Francisco wind was a factor, just as it had been in Saturday’s semi-final matches. It slowed the match down some and made balls in the air a bit more unpredictable.


In the 10’ Storm’s Maya Doms, from Stanford University, collected a loose ball and dished it to last season’s Pac North Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Janae Gonzalez who was making a run up the center of the field. Gonzalez let it rip. MISS KICK FC goalkeeper Ashley Naylor, a rising senior at Notre Dame, managed to get her hands on it to make a huge save that deflected the ball upwards and off the crossbar.    


Just two minutes later, MISS KICK attempted to build out of its defensive third when Doms intercepted a soft pass and sent a rocket from the top of the 18 into the right lower 90 of the goal. Storm took an early 1-0 lead.   


“It was all about our defense,” Doms said. “At the start of the game, we were really focused on pressing them and pressing their center backs. [The goal] kind of came off of pressing their six and she kind of played it back in the field a little slow. So, I read that, picked it off and took a shot.”


Three minutes after Doms’ goal, MISS KICK FC’s Nicole Molen, University of Southern California alumna, found herself wide open in front of the goal with the ball crossing in from the right side of the field. After an unlucky first touch, and with Storm’s Katie Hardeman (Sacramento State University alumna) closing in, Molen couldn’t get a shot off.


At the half, MISS KICK’s head coach Scott Juniper pointed out the wind would be in their favor in the second half encouraging them to take their shots. He also reminded them what was at stake.


“We’re going to have to work hard,” Juniper said. “If you want to make it to nationals, the next level, you have to fight.”


Both sides, showcasing the eagerness to get back to work, took the field with time still left in the 15-minute halftime break. MISS KICK came out strong at the start of the second half, determined to get on the board.


MISS KICK had a chance to equalize in the 53’ with a ball over the top to Jenna Nighswonger, a member of the U-23 Women’s National Team. Nighswonger took a touch to control it as she barreled toward the goal with Storm defenders right in step. California State University, Stanislaus goalie, Amanda Leal, came off her line, stayed low, and made a textbook save as Nighswonger hit it low towards Leal’s left side.


“We took it minute by minute, play by play. We just won every tackle that we could, every header,” Elizabeth Hutchison, Storm co-captain and UC Davis alumna, said. “That's really what made us win out in the end.”


The score remained 1-0 through the final whistle, crowning the Storm West Region Champions and sending the club through to WPSL Championship Semifinals next weekend in Stillwater, Okla.  


MISS KICK FC’s season ends here as SoCal Conference Champions and West Region runner-up in its first season in existence. For Juniper, the result was so close to being in their favor which he described as “kind of [being] the story of our last few games..we’ve been so close so often.”


Even so, looking back at MISS KICK’s 2022 season there’s a lot this team has to be proud of and build on for future seasons, but while Juniper still acknowledges this, the sting of the defeat still lingers.


“We can be super proud of where we're at, but we're competitors, right?” Juniper said. “We're supposed to be competitive and we’re disappointed not to go over the line today and gone one step further.”


In its 24 seasons in the league, the California Storm has won three Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) championships. The club’s last WPSL Championship Semifinal appearance, however, was about a decade ago.


For Storm’s Executive Director and Head Coach Jamie Levoy, her side is excited to be back in this position finally and is “so incredibly proud” of her players who she gives all the credit for where they currently stand in the postseason.


“They play with so much heart and they're just such a talented team,” Levoy said. “The pride of knowing that their hard work resulted in them being region champions is just.. it's everything.”