Taylor Sutton is a big winner in more than one way.
Sutton, 23, was a defender for the Fire & Ice women’s soccer team based in Belleville, Illinois. Recently, Fire & Ice rallied to defeat the Gulf Coast Texans 2-1 in the title game of the Women’s Premier Soccer League championship at SilverLakes Soccer Complex in Norco, California.
But an even bigger win for the Ballwin native happened when she overcame cancer.
Sutton, who graduated from Marquette High and Tennessee Tech, was one of several West County athletes on the championship team. Her teammates included midfielder Sidney Allen, a Eureka graduate who played for Missouri-St. Louis; Melanie Donaldson, an Incarnate Word Academy alum who graduated from Missouri this year; and forward Klasey Medelberg, an MICDS graduate who will be a junior at Iowa State this fall.
Sutton played for Fire & Ice in 2015, but not in 2016. That’s because she was diagnosed with cancer in early 2016. Battling the illness left no time for soccer.
Doctors told her she had Wilms’ tumor, a rare kidney cancer. She began chemotherapy in March of 2016.
“I finished it in September,” Sutton said about the treatment. “I have been cancer free from then on. It’s a great feeling. I’m pretty fortunate.”
A talented midfielder for coach Chris Kenny at Marquette, Sutton lettered four years in soccer. She was named the team MVP as a senior and was a three-time all-conference honoree and a four-year starter. She earned the varsity soccer 110 percent award in 2010 and 2012. Moreover, she was selected to participate in the Marquette Sports Leadership Program in 2011 and was named the team’s captain in 2012.
As a Mustang, Sutton racked up 15 career goals and 24 assists. She led the team in game-winning goals in 2012 and in assists in 2011. She also participated in basketball and was named team captain her freshman and sophomore seasons. She was named the JV basketball team’s MVP in 2009 and 2010.
A MAP Scholar from 2008-2012, she was awarded the Marvelous Mustang Award and was a junior and senior class advisory member.
Of Fire & Ice, she said, “I really enjoyed it. It’s like playing on an all-star team.”
The WPSL and its 112 clubs are on the second of a three-tier U.S. “soccer pyramid,” which ranks teams on their competitive level. It is composed of both professional/senior teams and amateur teams. Fire & Ice, an amateur club, competes in the five-team Valley Conference with mostly Ohio-based teams. The team enjoyed a great regular season, going 12-0 before winning the Central Division championship and advancing to the Final Four in California.
“Each game was a new trial, Sutton said. “Every team wanted to be the fist team to beat us. We had the players on the team that were able to mentally stay strong and physically stay strong to be the best team we could be.
“Our coach [Lindsay Eversmeyer] has an amazing ability to get the best players in the area and bring us together as one.”
The team advanced to the Central Division championship. In a game played at Belleville West High School, Fire & Ice defeated TTi Bluebonnets [Texas] 4-1 in overtime and GSI Pride 2-0.
“We didn’t face our true trial until the Central Division playoffs,” Sutton said. “It was an amazing feeling to win that. We faced true competition there. We had gone through a season that seemed relatively easy [but] to come out on top in the championship was a great feeling.”
In California, Fire & Ice was in the Final Four with the San Diego SeaLions, the Gulf Coast Texans and the Boston Breakers. Boston and San Diego played for the title in 2016.
“We were the only team there that had never won it before or been to the Final Four,” Eversmeyer said. “We were the underdogs, basically. We were seeded No. 2 going in, but we were still the underdogs because we had never been there.”
Fire & Ice beat the SeaLions 2-1. The win was huge, Sutton said.
“It was a hard fought game with them,” Sutton said. “We got down 1-0 but we came back. That said a lot about our character I think. Being down 1-0 can be very demoralizing. Our team rallied together. We worked to overcome the deficit and come back to win.”
Gulf Coast defeated Boston to set up the title tilt.
“Coach in the pregame talk was telling us to go out and play like it was our last game ever,” Sutton said. “You never know if it’s the last one. She wanted us to show the Gulf Coast Texans and the entire league who we are … that we could beat good teams and stay with anyone.”
Fire & Ice did. “We fought from the first whistle to the last whistle,” Sutton said.
When they won, it was “just pure joy,” Sutton said.