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Four Sutter soccer products sign with Minot State

Wednesday was National Signing Day across America, and it was also a big day for the Sutter High girls soccer program.

In a ceremony in front of family, friends and teammates at the Elite Fitness Sports Complex in Yuba City, current Huskies Erika Linch, Jayden Garcia and Madison Levine, along with former Sutter and Yuba College standout Taylor Franco each put pen to paper and signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Minot State University in North Dakota next season.

The four are some of the first to receive scholarships from Minot's soccer program, which was not allowed to participate in the NLI process while moving up from NAIA to the NCAA Division-II level.

This year was the first the Beavers were a full member of the NCAA and they are coming off the best season in the program's brief history after qualifying for the Division II national tournament last fall.

"I hate to see them go, but it's nice to see three girls from the same team get a scholarship," Huskies coach Jeff Stanhope said. "They have all been starters since they were freshmen and a key to Sutter soccer. Without them, we wouldn't have three section championships and a possible fourth."

The recruitment of the four Sutter products didn't come as much of a surprise considering the Minot program was started from scratch by former Sutter and Yuba College coach Jason Spain three years ago.

Spain still has close ties to the area, and seven of the nine players signed by Minot on Wednesday hail from California. The other two are from England.

"I have watched a few of these players for quite a few years, and I think with the success some of my former players have had here at Minot State played an important role," Spain said in a press release. "It's one thing to know a player, but it's another thing to convince them they will have success in a new system. Our track record certainly helped."

A high-scoring striker, Linch has been named the Appeal-Democrat's All-Area Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons and holds the school record with 181 goals, including 66 last year and 43 this winter.

She gave a verbal commitment to Minot State during her sophomore year, and while several schools made offers, she stuck to her word.

"I was for sure going there the whole time," Linch said. "I went back there one time and I knew that's where I wanted to be. I actually cried when I left.

"It has a comfy feeling. It's pretty there, it's not too big and not too overwhelming."

Her partner in crime at forward the last four years has been Garcia, who tallied 30 goals last season and is right behind Linch with 36 this winter.

The two are best friends and have been teammates since they were 8 years old. Needless to say, they are elated to be joining each other at the next level.

"It's unreal. We've worked so hard to get to this point and now we're here," Garcia said. "We're not babies anymore — it's women's soccer. It seems to be the perfect school and the perfect fit."

And like Linch, Levine knew Minot was where she wanted to go after visiting the school for the first time.

"It's kind of far, but the girls made me feel at home and that I was a part of the team from the start," said Levine, an all-around performer who can play anywhere on the pitch from sweeper to striker. "It's a D-II school, so it's a great opportunity to play college soccer. Going there seemed like the best decision for me."

However, unlike Linch, Garcia and Levine, Franco took a different route to earn her scholarship to Minot.

She excelled at all phases of the game and was a three-time Butte View League MVP during her time at Sutter, earning A-D Player of the Year honors during her senior season in 2009.

Four-year programs made offers right out of high school, but Franco elected to attend Yuba College to stay closer to home and went on to earn Bay Valley Conference first-team accolades.

She was ready hang up her cleats for good after earning her associate degree at Yuba and was working at Elite Fitness when Spain walked through the door two months ago.

"I thought I was done with soccer in a way, but Jason got me back into it," Franco said. "Soccer has always been an important part of my life and he presented me with this awesome opportunity. I just couldn't pass it up."

So there she was Wednesday, seated at a table with three current Huskies, each of whom are ready to take on the next challenge of their academic and athletic careers.

"I'm really excited," Franco said. "The program there is awesome and I'm looking forward to playing with all the local girls."

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