ROCKLIN, Calif. -- Just over a year ago, Amber Gwinn wasn't sure if she would ever play soccer again. During her senior year at Douglas, Gwinn and several others were kicked off the team midway through the season following an off-the-field incident involving alcohol.
"I wanted to play in college but I didn't know if would be able to," Gwinn said. "I didn't let any schools know what happened because I thought that would've affected if schools would've recruited me or not."
But there was one coach who saw something special in Gwinn and had to find out more. Ben Wade, who was the guy asked to lead Lassen College in its first year of soccer, talked with Douglas coach Fred Schmidt about the situation.
"Fred didn't tell him anything, only that I had gotten into some trouble," Gwinn recalled. "If he wanted to find out more, he said he could come talk to me. So I talked to him about and he didn't seem to mind."
Wade realized he was dealing with a good kid who had made a bad decision. A year later and, perhaps, a bit wiser, Gwinn has turned herself into one of the most dangerous players in Northern California.
"I had more fun that I expected," Gwinn said.
All the fun ended on Tuesday at Homer Buzz Ostrom Stadium, though.
Gwinn and the Cougars lost to Sierra College 3-1 in the semifinals of the Northern California regional tournament. It was Lassen's first loss since September, having won 18 straight going into the game. If the Cougars could've managed one more win, they would've advanced to state semifinals.
"A lot of coaches have told me how good we're doing for this being our first year," Wade said. "I'm definitely happy about the season. If I was in my 10th year and I was 23-4, I would still be happy. The girls just had an off day. I haven't seen them play like this since the second week (of the season)."
Sierra College improved to 20-1-4 and will play the winner of Santa Rosa/Fresno City in the state semifinals. Two representatives from Southern California will play in the other semifinal.
"They're definitely the best team we played," Wade said of the Wolverines, the top ranked team in Northern California. "But we could've and should've beat them. It's disappointing."
Gwinn scored early in the game to give Lassen a 1-0 lead. It was Gwinn's fourth goal for the playoffs. She also scored in a 4-0 win over Cabrillo College in the first round and had two goals in a 3-2 win over American River on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
But the Wolverines, who have advanced the playoffs for the past decade, including numerous quarterfinal appearances, came back. Freshman Megan Frost scored two first-half goals to give Sierra College led 2-1 at halftime. The Cougars then saw themselves down by two goals after Genevieve Hollis scored on a penalty kick in the 57th minute after a questionable call near the box. Lassen just couldn't find a way to score again.
"I don't think everyone played with a lot of heart today," said Gwinn, who finished the season with 24 goals and 19 assists. "We should've beaten that team. But I've never had this much fun with a group of girls. We just really became a family."
Wade won't lose a single player because of graduation from this year's team. He had six players from Northern Nevada on the roster, including Carson High's Erin Stieber. Stieber, though, didn't play this season because she was still recovering from a torn ACL. But she'll play next season.
Wade believes he'll recruit Northern Nevada more heavily in the future, a region he feels is a hidden gem for talent.
"I'd like to bring in 10 players from wherever," Wade said. "But I'm recruiting people from Douglas, Carson and Reno High for next year. They really have some good players."
But he certainly won't forget the one Northern Nevadan who has already helped put his program on the map.
"Amber is a great player that really plays with heart. She made a big difference for us this season."