NORTHRIDGE, Calif. ---
Former All-Big West Conference center back Katie Russ has inked a professional contract to play for the Houston Aces of the Women's Premier Soccer League. A 2013 CSUN graduate, Russ was a member of the 2012 Big West Champions that earned the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history.
The Aces participate in the South Division of the Big Sky Conference of the WPSL. They won the 2013 National Women's Open and are in their third year of competition.
"I went and visited my dad over the holidays and was looking for semi-pro teams in Houston. I saw tryouts were in a few weeks, talked to my parents and flew back out for the four-day training camp." Russ said. "We're getting a contract put together now. It's pretty awesome."
The tryout process was a four-day trial featuring a mixture of scrimmages and skill assessment. Katie estimated that around 35 women attended the start of tryouts with nine members from last season's squad also joining the group.
"The last day was tough. We were pretty sore and roughed up from the previous days. But in the end, I didn't care how my legs were feeling. I just wanted to get out there and do my best. I wound up finishing in the top six in the conditioning tests," Russ said.
Originally from Canyon Country, Calif., Russ spent five years training with the CSUN women's soccer program. After a redshirt in 2008, Russ would go on to appear in 80 contests for the Matadors, tying for the most in program history.
Primarily a center back, Russ totaled two goals and three assists in her Matador career. She also helped anchor a stout Matador defense that registered 40 victories and 32 shutouts during her four playing seasons.
She earned All-Big West Second Team honors in 2011 after finishing with a goal and assist.
"My dad is very excited for me to be coming out there. We'll be able to spend more time together and he'll be able to attend my games," Russ said. "My mom, while she is happy, also wanted to let me know it was ok to pass on the spot. It was a sweet gesture, but I am ready to get out and travel and live on my own. This is my chance and now is the best time to do it."
Having spent 20 years playing soccer, Russ sees the contract as the culmination of a lot of work.
"My goal as a kid was to go pro so to be at this moment is surreal," Russ added. "I am excited and ready to learn. This opportunity gave me a spark and I feel like a kid getting a chance to play again."
Russ was quick to credit her time with the Matadors for preparing for this next level of competition.
"Our athletic trainer, Dunford Rodill, really taught me how to take care of my body. He helped me understand how important nutrition and maintenance is and helped me mature as an athlete," Russ said. "Jeff Crelling, the team's strength coach, made me a stronger competitor both mentally and physically. Finally, Coach West and the staff helped me because of the competition level they created throughout the program. Whether it was in practice or taking on the nation's top teams, CSUN soccer helped me understand the commitment and work ethic needed to succeed. They taught me to play my hardest, to play with no regrets or worries and for that I am truly thankful."
Having worked with Russ for five years, West is happy to see his former center back continuing her soccer career.
"This is great news for Katie and CSUN women's soccer. She has represented the women's soccer program, the athletic department and entire CSUN community with pride and integrity during her time in Matador uniform," West said. "This doesn't surprise me at all because she was so instrumental in transforming the culture of the program. It was an honor to be her head coach during all of her time at Northridge."
As she prepares to take the next step in her soccer career, Russ is amped for the challenges and adventures ahead.
"I am a competitive person and am looking forward to the upcoming season," Russ said. "I am going to go out there and play my butt off and leave it all on the field."