Oct. 28, 2009
Portions of the Press Release courtesy of Jeff Kassouf
SOMERSET, N.J. – Sky Blue FC, the reigning champions of Women's Professional Soccer, made official today the signing of Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues and former Coastal Carolina University defender Ashleigh Gunning. The signing is the first example of player movement between the two teams, which established a partnership in December, 2008.
The Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues are the semi-professional affiliate of Sky Blue FC and allow players to keep their amateur status along their quest to becoming professional. That partnership, Gunning said, was a key to her getting this opportunity.
"Without a doubt a huge reason I have gotten this opportunity is because I played with Quickstrike," she said. "The level of the organization, the level of play, the professionalism all around has helped me get to this point, but it will also help me once I get with Sky Blue. It's more experience than I think most players in the W-League or college would get at other places."
Lady Blues Head Coach Jesse Kolmel is also excited about the move, because Gunning is living proof of the affiliation between the two teams, an affiliation that is closer to home than some realize.
"I think that this is proof that a young lady's dreams can come true and more importantly for the young fans, that this can happen in their back yard," Kolmel said.
Gunning appeared in all 13 games for the Lady Blues in 2009 en route to a W-League Regular Season Championship and semifinal appearance against the Pali Blues. She tallied two goals and two assists from the backline while anchoring a defense that was one of the best in country. She is versatile enough to play in several positions, and should do well at the next level, Kolmel said.
"I think that her ability with distribution is definitely a plus," he said. "The power that she can strike a ball with is huge. I thought she did a phenomenal job as our right back, kind of being a playmaker out of the back. She's technical with speed, but she is versatile. So, at the next level, she has the ability to play in multiple positions for Sky Blue and I think that is what they are looking for."
Sky Blue FC General Manager Gerry Marrone is also excited to have her on board
"I especially appreciate the excitement and enthusiasm that Ashleigh has already displayed on coming to Sky Blue FC," Marrone said. "She is a welcome addition to the team."
Gunning has previous W-League experience with the Cocoa Expos and the Charlotte Lady Eagles, and played the bulk of her collegiate soccer at Coastal Carolina University after transferring from Louisiana State University in her hometown of Baton Rouge, La.
Gunning is a two-time Big South Player of the Year selection at Coastal Carolina, becoming only the second player in Big South history to achieve the back-to-back feat. She led the team with 11 goals and 23 points in 2008. Three of her four game-winning goals came in Big South play. She scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Gardner-Webb and had game-winners in victories over UNC Asheville and VMI. Gunning had three goals in the Big South Tournament at High Point and was selected to the All-Big South Tournament team. Gunning was selected the Big South Player of the Week Oct. 28 after the VMI contest. She had 36 career goals at Coastal Carolina and is in the top-five in school history in career goals, assists, points and shots. Gunning also was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second team for the second straight season in 2008.
Her play in September's W-League Combine helped newly appointed Sky Blue FC Head Coach Pauliina Miettinen see her first-hand and solidify the deal. Her supportive family is also thrilled, but she said she does not want to get overly excited as she knows the work has only begun.
"It's obviously exciting," Gunning said. "I'm very thankful to have this opportunity and right now it's an opportunity. It's nothing guaranteed and obviously I have to show up and play well and prove that I deserve to be there. It's something I've thought about and worked towards for a long time, but I know that it is not the end of the road. I still have a lot of work to do and there is a long way to go. I am grateful to this great organization (Sky Blue FC) for the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream."