Published May 26, 2022
Written By:  Katie Parker
​             West Region Contributor


A passionate supporters group, storied club and natural grass home pitch are just a few of the things setting Academica SC up for success in its inaugural WPSL season.


When the whistle blows to start the match on May 29 in Fresno, Calif., history will be made as Academica Soccer Club’s inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPSL) season kicks off against the Fresno Freeze.


We’re definitely starting this team to compete from day one.” Simon Bettencourt, Academica SC president, said. “It’s important for us that we showcase the best that the Valley has to offer and we think this team will be able to do that.”


Academica’s first opponent, the Freeze, had a rough start to the 2021 season after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Fresno came up on the wrong end of a lot of close matches but continued to fight. The final matche of the season saw the Freeze lose by just one goal to eventual conference champs, Lamorinda United.   


When asked what to expect from his team Bettencourt said, “Courage and effort. Even though we’re new to the league, our players won’t have a problem facing any opponent and we expect them to leave it all on the field.” 


The roster is still coming together, but Academica SC expects local current and post-collegiate players and standouts from its youth affiliate, Turlock Academica Jrs, to create a balanced mix of experience on the pitch. 


The club announced its first two signings on social: Sadie Ortiz and Ainsley Wood. Ortiz is an alumna of Stanislaus State where she began as a defender and moved to forward her junior year. That shift enabled her to become the team’s leading scorer after tallying seven goals in the Warriors’ 2018 season. Ortiz made the most of the new position her senior year where she recorded 11 goals and 6 assists. She has a strong left foot, incredible speed, and excels on both ends of the pitch. 


Wood is currently attending California State University, Sacramento. She spent some time playing for WPSL side California Storm in Davis, Calif., but is a native of Hilmar - not even 10 minutes down the road from Academica Field. In her signing announcement, Wood mentioned she’s grateful to be able to play at a high level so close to home - all other WPSL teams are at least an hour’s drive away.


Although the 2022 season will bring Turlock its first WPSL team, the community is no stranger to high-level soccer. Academica also fields a men’s side in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) which just earned its first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup berth in 2019 and won its first conference championship last season.


“We’ve always wanted to field a team that gave local women the opportunity to play at a high level like we do with the men,” Bettencourt said. “A women’s team is an integral part of becoming a complete club. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for us to be able to get it kickstarted this year. This was a long-time coming.” 


… a half-century, long-time coming to be exact.

Academica SC was founded in 1972 by a group of Portuguese immigrants who went from playing pickup games after church to fielding an organized competitive team. As the club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, its evolution continues. Academica SC is home to a full youth academy and now both a men’s and women’s senior team. 


A couple of factors that will immediately enhance the WPSL players’ experience are club-owned facilities and a passionate supporters group, the Black and Gold Brigade. Academica Field is a natural grass pitch with a capacity in the stands of over 600 fans. Restrooms, locker rooms, lights and a scoreboard round out the features all made possible by club volunteers over a span of 40 years. In those stands will be the Black and Gold Brigade - armed with drums, trumpets, noisemakers, smoke bombs, flags, and scarves - ready to loyally support their new women’s team.


They’ve been a fantastic part of our game day experience on the men’s side and we expect more of the same with the women’s,” said Bettencourt. “They help turn Academica Field into a very tough place to play for visiting teams.

The Brigade’s first chance to show up for both teams on the same day will be June 11 in Turlock, Calif. History will be made once again as Academica SC’s WPSL side will host sixth-season league veteran San Ramon FC in an inaugural home opener at 5 pm. The NPSL side will take the pitch at 7:30 pm against Sacramento Gold FC. Bettencourt looks forward to the excitement of doubleheader days and the opportunity for the community to see the long-awaited, complete picture of the club in action. 


Academica SC will be led by Head Coach Damon Solomon and Assistant Coaches Joe Donahue and Chris Valdivia.


“Damon and his staff have been selected because of their experiences in coaching numerous Division 1 and Division 2 programs, as well as Junior College and Youth Competitive,” Bettencourt said. “We believe this coaching staff has what it takes to field a competitive team from day one.”


50 years may have passed since the club was founded, but for the women’s side? This is only the beginning.


When asked what his message is to the squad before the momentous May 29 kickoff, Bettencourt said, “This team is making club history so we want them to give their all for the badge of the shirt and represent the 209 proudly.”


Academica SC opens its inaugural season on the road against the Fresno Freeze at 6 pm, May 29, and hosts the Bay Area Surf to close out its 2022 campaign at Academica Field on July 6. Last season the 8-2-1 Surf tied for third-most goals in its inaugural WPSL season with 37.

Watch the games live on Eleven Sports, the official streaming partner of the WPSL.