Professional women’s soccer will return to action Friday evening when the Fresno Freeze host California Storm to start the season in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.
The Freeze is the third WPSL franchise in the area and arguably has the most buzz compared to its predecessors, the Clovis Sidekicks and Central Valley HEAT.
With general manager Jeremy Schultz (who also manages the Fresno Fuego) behind the scenes, the team coached by Tim Carroll fields a roster stacked with talented athletes both veterans who are finished with their college careers and a number who have college eligibility remaining.
Among the veterans are Nikki Schrey, who played at Saint Mary’s and Cal after earning The Bee’s Player of the Year honors in 2005 at Edison High, and Ashley Tenn, who was The Bee’s Player of the Year in 2003 at Redwood High before going on to Nebraska and San Diego State.
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The roster also has a handful of young athletes, including reigning Bee Girls Soccer Player of the Year Caitlyn Kreutz of Buchanan High. Others include Fresno City College standouts Mari Cruz Chapa, Vanessa Penuna and Cal Poly junior Elise Krieghoff.
“We want to create a competitive environment and the girls are the ones pushing that in practice,” Carroll said. “The older athletes come in with a lot more experience and they’re competing to stay atop of the group, while the younger ones may not have the experience or quickness, but they’re competing to get on the field and take some playing time. It naturally creates a good tension at our practice sessions.”
Schrey, who previously played in the WPSL with the Sidekicks, said there’s an exciting vibe about the new chapter of semi-pro women’s soccer in Fresno.
“Everyone’s enthusiastic, from the management all the way to the girls,” Schrey said.
The key change is the partnership with Fresno Fuego. As a result, the two clubs have created a Fire-and-Ice combination and will play doubleheader matches at Chukchansi Park starting at 5:30 p.m. when the Freeze host California Storm in their WPSL opener. The Fuego’s PDL match against Burlingame follows at 7:30.
“I think it’s great for the partnership — that’s a huge draw for this team,” Schrey said.
For Penuna, the nerves and excitement come from playing on the same team with players that were normally opponents.
“It’s a great feeling that you’re playing for your hometown. I take that to heart putting that jersey on,” she said. “It represents us. A lot of us are from Fresno. We’ve all played against each other and said we’re great players, but it’s great to finally be together and show off our talent.”
WPSL: FRESNO FREEZE vs. CALIFORNIA STORM
PDL: FRESNO FUEGO vs. BURLINGAME FC
▪ When: 5:30 p.m. at Chukchansi Park with the Fuego match following at 7:30
▪ Tickets: General admission $6 adults, $4 children; Phoenix Club $9
▪ Pregame giveaway: Custom Fire & Ice bandanas will be given to the first 1,000 fans starting at 6 p.m. Fans already inside the stadium for the Freeze match will need return to the gates to receive a bandana.