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WPIAL graduates team up for 3v3 national championship

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 3:55 p.m.
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The Fix's Auto Body team poses with its trophy after winning the Disney 3v3 Soccer Championships in January in Orlando, Fla. On the team were, in front, from left: Lauren Penn, Jessica Fix, and Leigh Cullen; and in back, from left: Adrienne Steckel, Christina Nicassio, Lindsay Koch and Jordan Baranowski.

Like many of her peers, Jessica Fix played 3v3 soccer growing up. But until this year, she never competed in the sport at a national level.

She made her first experience count.

Fix, a 2005 Norwin alumna, teamed with six other WPIAL graduates and traveled to the Disney 3v3 Soccer Championships in January at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. The team, sponsored by Fix's Body Shop in North Huntingdon, won the championship in the Women's Adult Open division thanks to a pair of shootout victories in its final two games.

“Those kids that get to go down there and go every year don't really realize how cool of an atmosphere (it is), and how they have everything set up,” Fix said. “It's just very neat to experience.”

The team consisted of Fix, Pine-Richland graduates Jordan Baranowski and Adrienne Steckle, Plum graduates Christina Nicassio and Lauren Penn, Kiski Area graduate Lindsay Koch and North Allegheny graduate Leigh Cullen. The players knew each other from their years competing with and against each other in the travel, high school and college soccer ranks. Baranowski, Cullen, Fix, and Steckel played together at the University of Akron, Koch and Penn played at Pitt-Johnstown and Nicassio played at the University of Pittsburgh.

“We actually had competed against or with each other since we were probably around 10 or 12 years old,” Nicassio said. “Through the years, you play on different teams (and) you go to different high schools, different colleges. … We all have played each other before, even in college.”

The players, most of whom still play coed soccer in the Pittsburgh area, formed last summer and decided to compete in a 3v3 tournament in the Pittsburgh area. By winning that tournament, the team qualified for the national championships.

Unlike regular soccer, 3v3 features three players on the field for each team at one time. There is no goalie. While all the players on the Fix's Body Shop team played 3v3 growing up, none had ever gone to nationals.

While Nicassio said the players were uncertain about going to Orlando at first, they quickly warmed to the idea.

“Who doesn't want to go to Florida and play a little soccer when it's cold back in Pittsburgh?” Nicassio said.

After winning its first game by a 9-4 tally, the team played Blue Fire, a team from Wyoming that included four recent Division I college graduates — including two former members of the U.S. under-18 national team. Blue Fire beat the team of WPIAL graduates, 5-3.

“We play regularly, but playing 3v3 — we don't really do that, (and we didn't have) much preparation before we went down,” Fix said. “That's kind of why that one team beat us. They're used to it and had been going in previous years. They knew more how to handle us, while we were learning as we were playing.”

After both teams won another game, they met in the winner's bracket finals. This time, they battled to a 5-5 tie through 20 minutes, leading to a shootout that consisted of the three players on the field for both teams at the end of the game. Fix, Nicassio and Cullen all converted for the Pittsburgh team, while one of Blue Fire's shooters missed.

“We didn't really know the rules for the shootout,” Fix said. “The three of us who actually ended up on there, it just so happened that that's how it turned out. It was funny because I had just stepped on probably 20 seconds (before).”

That win qualified Fix's Body shop for the championship match, where they again met Blue Fire. Again, the teams battled to a 5-5 tie through regulation and two overtime periods, leading to another shootout.

Just as before, Fix, Nicassio and Cullen converted for the Pittsburgh team, while Blue Fire's second shooter missed.

After winning the championship, Fix and Nicassio said they planned to keep the team together in the hopes of going back to nationals again next year.

“It was kind of surreal,” Nicassio said of winning the championship. “It's kind of making me go back on all my other years of soccer. It's kind of crazy that I can keep playing. I'm thankful for that. Not many people (can).”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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