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Sunny Hills' Aanderud is girls soccer player of the year
If ever there was a season in which a player thoroughly exemplified the desired traits of leading by distinguished example both on and off the field, Sunny Hills senior Brittany Aanderud successfully achieved both in 2011-2012.
The senior midfielder entered the season as one of the county's rising talents, but took her talented, multi-dimensional play-making skills to another level.
Aanderud recorded a "20-20" season, scoring career-high 20 goals and dishing out a career-high and county-best 24 assists.
She also became the team's unquestioned vocal and emotional leader, helping the Lancers stay focused on their season-long goal of a CIF title, while consistently providing examples to her teammates of the required preparation and dedication needed along the way.
For her season-long accomplishments and inspiring display of leadership, Aanderud has earned the distinction of being the 2011-2012 O.C. Register/OCVarsity girls soccer player of the year.
"This award is the biggest accomplishment in my soccer career so far and this is what came out of putting in the work non-stop," Aanderud said. "I really didn't care about how many goals or assists I had. It was all about getting my team to the finals and trying to lead us to victory."
After experiencing the thrill of advancing to a CIF championship match as a freshman, Aanderud and the Lancers fell short of getting back to that plateau over the next two seasons.
She candidly acknowledged that both individual and team goals for the season were based upon returning the Lancers to the elite status the program has achieved in years past.
"We have the same tradition every year that anything less than a CIF championship is unacceptable," Aanderud said. "That's what our program is based on, and from the beginning of the year, we wanted to follow through with that.
"As a senior captain, I never wanted anything so bad and I wanted to make sure our whole team was on that same page."
The Lancers opened the season with a dominant run of success. They won their first 17 matches, which included tournament victories in the Sunny Hills Invitational and the North Orange County Classic.
Aanderud admitted that the hot start to the season was important in establishing a confidence within the team that they had the talent to enjoy great success.
"With us being 17-0, it was a reassurance that this was a good team," Aanderud said. "But at the same time, Coach (Gordon) and I would remind the team that we have to be humble and hungry, not stop working, and take every game as serious a championship match."
The Lancers carried that championship intensity into a Jan. 7 non-league road match against Aliso Niguel, which was also unbeaten entering the contest. The Wolverines survived a tough battle and handed the Lancers their first defeat of the season, but Aanderud and the Lancers emerged even more optimistic about their prospects for a strong run down the stretch.
"I was a little upset (about losing), but our team wasn't and Coach Jeff (Gordon) was really pleased with us," Aanderud recalled. "We felt we were right there."
Aanderud helped Sunny Hills regroup from the loss by scoring seven goals and recording eight assists over the next nine matches, as Sunny Hills claimed its second consecutive Freeway League title with a perfect 10-0 league record.
Despite an impressive run against their league rivals, Aanderud noted that didn't play its best soccer as a team and needed to rediscover the path that would lead them to where they wanted to go.
"I felt that at the beginning of the season, we wanted a CIF title so bad that were overlooking the Freeway League," she said. "We had to realize that winning league was going to get us to CIF, and even though we didn't have our best games, we came out strong and won every game."
Aanderud recorded three goals and three assists in four playoffs wins, propelling Sunny Hills into the CIF-SS Division 2 championship match against an undefeated Los Osos team that entered the match ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps.
Aanderud's previous experience of playing for a CIF crown helped prepare her teammates for the pressure of playing on the season's biggest stage.
"I was the only one on the team that had played in a CIF final and told the girls it was about," she said. "We knew that team (Los Osos) would be very good and we studied them. It was the moment that we came together the most as a team and we had confidence going into the game."
Sunny Hills and Los Osos engaged in a tight affair from the outset of their title match, with the Grizzlies scoring the lone goal of the match in the second half to bring a disappointing end to the Lancers title dreams and Aanderud's high school career.
"We struggled a bit going at their defense and it just didn't happen for us in that match," Aanderud said. "That's the game of soccer."
Though Aanderud and the team came tantalizingly close to a CIF title twice without claiming it during her four-year career, she says being part of a the Lancers tradition is something she will cherish when she moves on to Liberty College in Virginia next fall.
"It was a blessing to be a part of Sunny Hills and I've never had such an amazing coach as Jeff (Gordon)," she said. "He pushed me so much, and at times, it was frustrating. But I don't know if I will ever experience what I experienced at Sunny Hills and it will definitely help me in college."