Lights, UNLV hope doubleheader grows women’s soccer in city

UNLV women’s soccer coach Jenny Ruiz-Williams instructs players during practice at Peter ...

The Las Vegas Lights are known for their slapstick promotions, like helicopter cash drops and “Doggie Olympics.” But on Saturday, their latest promotion has a more serious goal: to grow interest in women’s soccer in Las Vegas.

The UNLV women’s soccer program and the Lights will attempt to break the record for the highest attendance at a women’s soccer game in Nevada. UNLV will play Arizona in its last spring scrimmage after the Lights’ game against Colorado Springs. Both sides are optimistic they will break the previous record of 1,500 set by UNLV in a 2019 spring game against the Argentinean national team.

Lights FC Owner and CEO Brett Lashbrook said the team had been looking for ways to work with UNLV on having a doubleheader.

At first, UNLV head coach Jenny Ruiz-Williams had doubts. She wondered how her team would handle the pressure and if it would be beneficial to the program. But after a moment of reflection, she knew she couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

“We have to do this because if you want to grow the game, you have to be brave,” Ruiz-Williams said. “You have to take chances. You have to take risks. What we’re doing is just putting them out there where they’re gonna battle and show entertaining, exciting soccer for the community.”

Seven players on UNLV’s spring roster are from southern Nevada. They include goalie Taylor Book, wh0 was second on the team last season with 25 saves, and forward Alyssa Caso, who scored three goals.

Another local player is junior defender Heather Mitchell. She was surprised to hear that one of UNLV’s spring scrimmages was going to be played at Cashman Field. She is looking forward to showcasing the women’s soccer program to a wider audience.

“Being able to play this game is going to be really exciting because being Las Vegas local, I know a lot of the people in this community. I know that they will be there to support and that’s just super nice to have that,” Mitchell said.

The Rebels have worked with the Lights on promotional videos and social media campaigns for the scrimmage. Ruiz-Williams, a former member of the Mexican national soccer team and player in the National Women’s Soccer League, has always felt that the best way to grow the sport is to invest into the players.

“I’ve always thought as an ex-pro, the game would grow if we showcased the women,” Ruiz-Williams said. “Put them out there so that a little girl could see them and that’s what (the Lights are) doing.”

Lashbrook hopes this sends a message to the local soccer community about the importance of supporting women’s soccer.

“(Women’s soccer) just continues to grow,” Lashbrook said. “I think it makes sense for us to find ways to work together and to support each other.”

The Rebels hope the experience of playing in front of a larger crowd will help them when their season begins in the fall. Even though Saturday’s game is a scrimmage, Ruiz-Williams has made it clear to her team that their mindset should mirror that of a regular season game, while making a great first impression in front of a large crowd.

“This is our last spring scrimmage. We’re gonna treat it like the fall. We’re gonna treat it like it’s a Mountain West Conference championship game. It’s a big one,” Ruiz-Williams said.

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.