With over 1,500 players aged 4 to 18, Santa Monica American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) is the city’s largest youth sports league. Each fall the city’s AYSO Region 20 crowns champions in age groups 10, 12 and 14, both boys and girls. The six winning teams then advance to post season play against other AYSO region champions, and the teams keep advancing as long as they keep winning. This year, two local teams advanced to the highest tournament level, the Sectionals, which include top teams from 11 AYSO Areas encompassing over 70 regions from Southern California, Western Arizona and Southern Nevada. Over 100,000 players compete in the 70 regions so just making it to the Sectionals is a huge achievement. AYSO’s Sectional Tournament was held in Riverside in early March and Santa Monica’s Girls Under 12 team, coached by Sean Alatorre, made a strong showing but finished second in their pool and failed to advance. The Girls Under 10 team, the Patriots coached by Alex Benn with Assistant Coach Jon Kean, tied their first game 1-1 in pool play against Temple City. They next beat Hawthorne 2-0 and headed into the third and deciding game against Walnut. The winner of the match would advance to the medal round. The Patriots fell behind 2-1 going into the final quarter. Undeterred, Patriot C.J. Benn tied the game 2-2 with a goal early in the fourth quarter. Then, with only minutes remaining, Santa Monica’s Katie Dunbar placed a corner kick in front of the goal, and her teammate Olivia Henrikson blasted the assist into the goal for a rousing last minute 3-2 win.In the opening game of the medal round, the Patriots were bested by Ontario 3-0 which put them into the consolation bracket for third place against San Bernardino. It was another fierce contest tied 1-1 early in the game until Katie Dunbar scored, taking a 2-1 lead into halftime. With an assist by Phoebe Lewin, C.J. Benn scored a second half insurance goal and the Patriots won the third place game 3-1. Haley Clark, Jenny Kean, Layla Jimenez, Hannya Moritz, and Ally Pezzullo complete the Patriots roster. It was the best finish by any AYSO Santa Monica team in the Sectionals Tournament in recent years. Jonathan Balfus and Vincent Landay are co-commissioners of AYSO Region 20.
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