Going out in style

My daughter’s soccer season ended last night. I’ve written before how they’re much improved this year. They’ve had an excellent season–only one team in their group has beaten them, though they’ve done so twice. So who did they play for their last game of the season? Yup. The only undefeated team.

I had some hopes. The two games they lost were closer than any other games that team has played. They had the ability to beat this team. They just couldn’t quite get there. Even so, they’ve continued to get better through the season. Their scores against the other teams continued to increase throughout the season.

So to say I was anxious about tonight’s game would be an understatement. I wanted them to go out on top, but I had my doubts. This team has mostly won by getting in their heads and being more physical, while somehow hiding it from the referees.

The other team really wanted to win, too. They came out of the gates guns blazing, and it took our team several minutes to compensate. The black team (our team is red) figured if they could dominate early they would break our team’s spirit and roll over them once again. But somehow it didn’t happen. Between an excellent goalie and a little dumb luck the black team failed to score.

And then the unthinkable happened. One of our players kicked the ball into the other team’s end of the field, and our best player caught up with it first. All alone she drove toward the goal. A black team player tried to stop her and got taken down cleanly, leaving our player all alone against their goalie.

She fired–the goalie deflected it and tried to fall on it, but the ball bounced clear. Our player followed through and scored.

Our team was ahead for the first time ever. They had scored first on the black time for the first time ever. Just like that it became an entirely different game. The black team has always scored early and often, so I’m not sure they’ve known pressure or fear. They fought hard, but that added bit of pressure seemed to throw off their aim. Shot after shot went wide, and those that didn’t were easy catches for our excellent goalie.

To be sure there were heart-stopping moments. My wife and I have sore throats. We would have loved for our team to add to their lead, but we couldn’t quite get it done, either. They just wouldn’t go in, even the last attempt that hit the crossbar and bounced straight down in front of the goal. There were break-away goal attempts by the other team that by all rights should have ended in disaster for us.

But the girls held on. The black team didn’t let up to the very end. The last minutes of the game crawled by. I’ve never heard a final whistle sound so sweet in my life. Our girls beat the black team. The only thing that could have made it any sweeter would have been for the other coach’s head to explode (he’s a screamer, and I’ve come to loathe the sound of his voice over two seasons. Seriously, he sounds like he’s about to give himself an aneurism at any second).

Our goalie and our star player should sleep extra well tonight. The game was theirs. The rest of the team played their hearts out, but those two really came through. And one of our best defensive players was sick and still gave it her best–she deserves credit not just for tonight but for an entire season of critical defensive plays that largely went unacknowledged.

Our coach, too, deserves tremendous credit and thanks. As a parent he’s the type of coach you hope your kids get (as opposed to the aneuritic screamer). He’s tough on them, but fair. He pushes them, but is generous with encouragement and compliments. He makes sure everyone plays, even the girl with developmental problems who seldom comes to practices. If a girl isn’t playing well at a particular position that game he’ll find her a different one where she might do better. He handles defeat and victory with equal aplomb. All of the team parents are thrilled he’s agreed to come back for another season.

And even with such a big final game coming up he could have dispensed with tradition in order to get in more practice, but he turned over most of the last practice to the Team vs. Parents game on Monday night. I had a blast, and I know the other parents enjoyed it. The girls also like showing off for (and showing up) their parents. I’m still a little sore, but it was worth it.

Anyway, the season is over, and I’m thrilled they were able to end it on such a high note. It was a knuckle-biter to be sure, but an absolutely perfect ending. The girls will remember this game for a good, long time. I know I will. I’m proud of them all (especially my own, of course). Definitely a season to remember.