Cleveland Ambassadors forward Anna Rico led the Ohio Valley Conference with seven goals in 2018. [Andy Drabic, Cleveland Ambassadors]
Sarah Krause [Andy Drabic, Cleveland Ambassadors]
CLEVELAND — For the Cleveland Ambassadors, their undefeated season was the culmination of years of efforts on and off the pitch.
Caleb Fortune, the unanimous pick for Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year, has been with the Ambassadors for over a decade.
“I came to Ambassadors USA in 2007 initially to help with the club, community and campus programs,” Fortune said. “Martin Rennie, head coach of Indy Eleven now, has been a long time friend and mentor, and was instrumental in me coming over.”
Anna Rico, the Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year, tells a similar story.
“I have been with the Cleveland Ambassadors since I was seven,” Rico said. “Caleb was my travel team coach at the time, and he told my parents that he was coaching a youth team and wanted me to join.
“When the WPSL team started, I was 16 and never dreamed that I would be on the team so young, but Caleb gave me a chance, like so many other young players, and for that I have been forever grateful.”
Rico said what kept her at the club is the competitive yet fun environment and all the coaches who put so much time and effort in making the club the place it is.
Like Rico, many of the key players this season have been apart of the club for years.
“The core trait we are looking for is character as the WPSL is such a competitive league, and you need to have players up for the challenge,” Fortune said. “I think when making the roster it’s important to get a balance of experienced players who can lead, such as Kori Chapic, Kelly Novak and Lani Smith, solid players who are committed week in, week out, and then young players who have a lot of talent but need guidance.”
The Ambassadors led the Ohio Valley Conference with six players named to the all-conference team: goalkeeper Madison Less, and forwards Sarah Krause, Novak, Rico, Smith, and Halle Stelbasky.
Krause had the season-defining play, a second-half stoppage time goal vs. Motor City FC on June 23, which gave the Ambassadors a 1-0 victory in the de facto conference championship match.
Rico, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, has seen her excellent form from this summer, where she led the conference in scoring with seven goals, pay off in her first collegiate season. She leads the Panthers in scoring with three goals in nine matches.
“The 2018 season was amazing,” Rico said. “This really helped in going into my first college season because I was surrounded by amazing girls, like Sarah Krause and Grace Bahr, that could boost my game to the next level. They gave me confidence that I could go into a big game, remain calm, and play my game.”