2015 Nike Thorns soccer ball
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Thorns FC Academy players star in Oregon state high school tournaments

The fall soccer season has wrapped up for high school teams across Oregon and a number of Portland Thorns Academy players finished their seasons strong, earning a string of awards and accolades at the state and conference levels.

Few players accomplished more than Jacqueline Blakeley of La Salle Catholic College Prepatory High School and the Thorns U-16s. On November 16, Blakeley was named the Northwest Oregon Girls Soccer Player of the Year.

Three days earlier, in Oregon's 5A State Final, Blakeley scored and converted one of La Salle's game-winning penalty kicks to help top-seeded La Salle Prep edge past Silverton.

Blakeley, a freshman, had not been involved in La Salle's agonizing 7-0 defeat to Summit in the state final last year, but as she explained to The Oregonian, the stinging memory of that loss helped motivate her and her more experienced La Salle teammates in this year's final.

“Everyone was just heartbroken,” Blakeley told The Oregonian. “They told me the story of what happened, so that made me want to work so much harder for them, because they’ve been through this before, and I haven’t. I felt like if I didn’t put 100 percent in, we weren’t going to be able to win. They needed that.”

In the same final, fellow Thorns Academy player and Silverton freshman Paige Alexander scored in the 71st minute to tie the match at two goals apiece. Alexander, who cut by three La Salle defenders before scoring, was later voted the Player of the Game in the losing effort. Alexander was also recently named to the Mid-Willamette Conference First Team.

Another Academy player, sophomore Emily Ford, also became a champion when her high school, Oregon Episcopal School, stunned top-seeded Catlin Gabel 2-1 behind two late goals. The victory marks Oregon Episcopal's third consecutive 3A state championship.

“All we needed was a goal and we got all hyped up,” Ford told The Oregonian after the match.

In fact, it was Ford who assisted on teammate Annika Lovestrand's game-winning goal in the 75th minute. For her tireless work throughout the match, Ford was awarded Player of the Game.

But Ford, Alexander, and Blakeley weren't the only Thorns Academy players to earn recognition at the state level this past month.

In addition to the accomplishments of these three Thorns Academy players, 20 other Academy players were recognized as first team, second team, or honorable mention players in their respective conferences. Of the 22 total Academy players who earned such recognition, 14 were named to their conference's first team.

These include both Blakeley and Alexander as well as Allison Warta, Tana Eri, Emma Anderson, Amber Jewell, Madison Serafini, Mya Pfenning, Ali Flaherty, Rylee Pierce, Emma Hunter, Hailee Rasmussen (whose Sherwood High School won the state's 6A championship title 2-1), Alexandria Tejada, and Sienna Higinbotham.

Conference second team honorees and honorable mentions include Kenady Leighton, Ava Benedetti, Carlie Bateman, Kora McCullough, Phoebe Bunn, Nayeli Buchanan, and Emily Ford.

Four Thorns Academy players were also named to the Region IV ODP team ahead of the US Youth Soccer ODP Thanksgiving Interregional tournament held in Boca Raton, Fla. this past Thanksgiving week. Those four included Hailey Coll, Maggie Lacey, and Kenady Leighton on the 2001 roster, and Alexandria Tejada on the 2002 roster.

The Portland Thorns Academy, one of the 25 founding clubs in the U.S. Soccer Girls' Development Academy, will begin USSDA play in the fall of 2017. The Thorns FC teams feature feature three combined age groups: U-14/15, U-16/17 and U-18/19 which were founded to provide elite young players with opportunities to train year-round with the best players in their age group, experience a professional first-team environment, and increase their chances of moving into strong collegiate or professional programs after graduation.

The games will be scouted by U.S. Soccer and the program will serve as the primary pathway to the youth national teams. For more information on Thorns FC involvement in the new Academy program, see the official release here.