Since completing one of the most accomplished girls soccer careers in Central Section history, Anessa Patton has spent her summers in Fresno running and lifting weights before heading off to college.
But this summer, the former Memorial High standout gained invaluable experience playing for the upstart Clovis Sidekicks, an amateur women's team made up of current and former college players who compete in the Women's Premier Soccer League.
Patton helped the Sidekicks wrap up their inaugural season in style Saturday, scoring a hat trick to power a 3-0 victory over the short-handed Portland Rain at Clovis North High.
The Sidekicks, who play in the WPSL's Pacific North Division, finished the year 6-6.
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With her three goals Saturday, one off an assist from Ida Rodriguez and two after nifty moves with the ball in the center of the field to shake defenders, Patton pushed her season total to 10 in seven games before she heads off for her senior season at Santa Clara.
"I feel like I have improved with the ball at my feet," said Patton, a two-time Bee Player of the Year for Memorial who finished her four-year career with 111 goals. "That's something my college coaches have told me to improve on. This league is very competitive. You are playing with the top players on the West Coast. I think a lot of these players, once they are done with college, can make it in the pros."
Providing Fresno-area college players the opportunity to further hone their skills over the summer was all part of the plan when veteran coach Milt Contreras launched the Sidekicks in March.
It's also a team for players such as Nikki Schrey, a former Bee All-Star from Edison who hadn't played competitive soccer in more than a year since completing her college eligibility at Cal.
"When this opportunity came around, it gave me an opportunity to get back into it," Schrey said. "This was an awesome time for me. It was fun being in this atmosphere, playing with girls in college and still being able to hold my own."
Contreras, who serves as the team's coach and general manager, said the Sidekicks will return in 2011 and that he will run the club for at least three to five years before reassessing its feasibility.
The Sidekicks cost roughly $10,000 to run in their first season, with corporate sponsors helping foot the bill. Contreras said the Sidekicks drew an average of 125 fans to their eight home games at Clovis North, with 350 showing up for their opener against the California Storm, which featured former U.S. Women's World Cup team hero Brandi Chastain.
"It's like a small business," Contreras said. "Now I have to find ways to make it flourish."
The Sidekicks appear to be catching on in the local girls soccer community. Contreras said he has received e-mails from at least 50 players looking to try out for next season's team, and he added that nearly everyone from the Sidekicks' 30-player roster has expressed an interest in returning.
"That tells me we have a future," Contreras said. "As long as we have young women who want to compete at this level, I'll continue to offer it to them."