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Fauquier County well represented on VSA Heat national runner-up girls soccer team

Thursday, Jul. 31 | By Jeff Malmgren
United States Youth Soccer held its under-17 girls national championship match Sunday.

The Del Mar Carmel Valley (California) Sharks Elite faced off against the Virginia Soccer Association Heat 96 Blue.

Incredibly, about 13 percent of the players on those teams' rosters honed their skills in Fauquier County.

While the Heat lost the tournament championship match to the Sharks, 1-0, that VSA team made it all the way to the national final with the help of Mia Barreda, Michele Micciche, Kelli Burney, Taylor Decker and Erika Blevins – all products of Fauquier County schools.

During this past high school soccer season, Barreda played for the Fauquier High Falcons, while Decker and Blevins played for the Class 3A state runner-up Kettle Run Cougars, Michele Micciche played for the Highland Hawks and Kelli Burney attended Liberty while recovering from an ACL injury suffered two years ago as a member of the Eagles' soccer team.

Those five players made up 25 percent of the Heat's 20-girl roster, a group that won the Virginia State Cup and U.S. Region I championships in order to qualify for the national tournament. Heat 96 Blue coach Steve Smith credited team chemistry for the Heat's success.

Travel teams don't always foster chemistry with players pulled from various area high schools. Smith, however, said the VSA Heat focus on trying to establish unity.

"It can be extremely difficult, especially with girls," he said. "Sometimes they seem to have cliques. But our [VSA] teams have always been really close. … It’s family away from family."
Micciche echoed that sentiment.

"I love every single one of my teammates and I consider them all my sisters," she said. "So when we step on the field we play for each other, not for ourselves, and I really think that's why we were so successful."

The VSA Heat began the eight-team national tournament by beating the MAI Maitland 96/97 Krush Black of Florida, 4-3, in the opening round of group play. Continuing group play, the Heat lost to the DMCV Shark Elite, 2-1, before tying Kings Hammer Academy of Ohio, 2-2, to advance to the elimination bracket.

"We were in an extremely tough group," Smith said.

In bracket play, the Heat beat the Kansas City Metro Dynamos of Kansas, 1-0, in the semifinals to create a rematch against DMCV in the national final, which the Sharks won for the second consecutive season.

The VSA Heat played without Blevins, who left the team after it won the state championship. She had to report in early July to the U.S. Military Academy, where she will play college soccer. Although she was a captain and key midfielder, the Heat progressed without her.

"She’s obliviously a very talent player. … Everyone really looks up to Erika," said Smith, who also previously coached Blevins at Kettle Run. "We missed her, but some other people really stepped up."

Smith called Barreda "the glue" that kept a connection between the Heat's defense and offense. She played defensive midfield.

"Holds everything together for us," Smith said. "She probably covers more ground than any other player on the field. And she was a great ball-winner in the [national] tournament."

Burney, meanwhile, anchored the Heat's defense.

"One of best defenders in entire tournament, by far," Smith said." She had a tremendous week.

"She won everything in the air," he said. "Her passing was tremendous."

Elsewhere, Micciche and Decker played forward, the former as a starter and the latter off the bench.

"She brings a lot of spark off the bench," Smith said of Decker.

Micciche, meanwhile, tried to overcome an ankle injury that kept her out of pool play in the national tournament. She managed to play in the semifinals and finals.

"She gutted it out," Smith said. "She always played with a lot of energy and the girls feed off her."

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