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Sky Blue FC announces 2016 team awards

The team announced its Most Valuable Player, Golden Boot and Rookie of the Year award winners, among others.

Jose L. Argueta, ISI Photos

On Friday, Sky Blue FC officially announced the 2016 winners for its annual team awards. The awards consist of Most Valuable Player, Defender of the Year, Most Improved Player, Rookie of the Year and the Golden Boot Award.

The team underwent a complicated process to determine the award winners, but the entire team was involved in the process.

Individual awards within the team are challenging to decide because of the fantastic collective effort that every player gave this season,” Christy Holly, head coach, said in a statement released by the team.

To many people’s surprise, Sky Blue finished seventh in the NWSL with a 7-8-5 record and 26 points for the season. While seventh may not sound too impressive to some, the off-season personnel turnovers and injuries throughout the season had many people predicting Sky Blue to finish at the bottom of the table. However, the players’ dedication and tenacity under the tutelage of Holly in his first year as head coach lifted the team to surpass many people’s expectations.

“We are very fortunate to have each of these award winners on our team, but we are equally proud of everyone else on our roster who contributed to our success,” Holly said.

Most Valuable Player: Sarah Killion

Robyn McNeil, ISI Photos

In just her second year with Sky Blue, Killion started in all 18 matches she played for a total of 1,620 minutes. She was on track to play every minute of the season until she was sidelined for a pair of games with an injury. However, during her time on the field, Killion tallied three goals, all of which were penalty kicks, and one assist. Most importantly, Killion controlled the midfield for Sky Blue, generating offensive plays while maintaining a strong defensive presence in the center of the field. Her performance in the midfield showed an experience beyond Killion’s years, and her chemistry with Raquel Rodriguez on the field was beneficial for Rodriguez and the team as a whole. Her character and quiet leadership is just as strong off the field as it is on, which is why Killion was voted this year’s Most Valuable Player.

Defender of the Year: Christie Rampone

Jose L. Argueta, ISI Photos

Many fans of the NWSL were shocked when Sky Blue captain and centerback Christie Rampone was left off the ballot for NWSL Defender of the Year. After all, the 41-year-old New Jersey native was one of just a handful of players to play every minute of every game this season and just the second Sky Blue player in NWSL history to do so. Rampone anchored a back line that, for the majority of the season, had two rookie defenders starting on it. She also played in front of two goalkeepers who, coming into the 2016 season, only had one professional start between them. Players of all experience levels continuously cited Rampone as a leader on and off the field, and, in an interview with Once a Metro, Holly described Rampone as the epitome of a Sky Blue player. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Rampone was named the 2016 Defender of the Year for Sky Blue.

Golden Boot Winner: Sam Kerr

Sam Kerr celebration Courtesy of Sky Blue FC

For the second consecutive year, Australian-international Sam Kerr is the team’s Golden Boot Award winner. Kerr missed the first seven matches of the season as she continued recovering from an off-season surgery to repair an injury sustained during her time playing in the Australian W-League. In just nine matches played this season, Kerr scored five goals, including goals in four consecutive matches. In her two seasons with Sky Blue FC, Kerr has recorded 11 goals and two assists in just 18 games played. With no major international tournaments in the next couple of years to affect Kerr’s time with Sky Blue, there’s not telling just how lethal a healthy Kerr may be for the New Jersey team.

Most Improved Player: Kristin Grubka

Robyn McNeil, ISI Photos

In just her second professional season, centerback Kristin Grubka made herself an integral part of the Sky Blue back line late in the season. After starting on the bench for the first six matches, Grubka cracked the starting XI in week 7 and never looked back. Her physical, aggressive style of play complemented that of Rampone, and the two proved a formidable duo in the center of the Sky Blue defense. Grubka quickly earned a reputation of putting her body on the line, doing whatever necessary to make a block or deny an opponent a look at goal. Her defensive bicycle kick clearance against Orlando preserved the draw for Sky Blue and was nominated for that week’s NWSL Save of the Week. Grubka’s game has grown remarkably this season, making her an obvious choice for Most Improved Player.

Rookie of the Year Class: Caroline Casey, Leah Galton, Raquel Rodriguez, Erin Simon and Erica Skroski

Robert Plummer, Once a Metro

Yes, Raquel Rodriguez may have been named the NWSL Rookie of the Year, but it’s impossible to distinguish just one Rookie of the Year for Sky Blue FC. Together, these five rookies logged a combined 6, 716 minutes for Sky Blue, often battling through injury, fatigue and even national team duties to compete for their team. Four of the five—Rodriguez, goalkeeper Caroline Casey, midfielder Leah Galton and defender Erica Skroski—came to the team via the 2016 collegiate draft, while defender Erin Simon came to the team via open tryouts. From the very start, these first-year professional athletes became a fixture in Sky Blue’s starting XI. Their skill, determination and dedication to the team were all major factors in Sky Blue’s success. “I can't say enough good words about the rookies that have come in this season,” Holly said about his Rookie of the Year Class Winners. “You know, each one of these rookies, there's been more asked of them than there probably ever should have been in their first year....they were told ‘Sink or swim,’ and each of them are coming out looking like Michael Phelps.”