You can’t really say that this was a rivalry game because the teams had never met before. Between the two rosters are lots of connections from school, from recreational teams, and all stars, and tryouts. To finally meet on the field, though, they had to travel about ninety minutes away and get a lucky draw in a big tournament.
Our opponent was a well-known and respected one from just around the corner. Playing in more competitive leagues than we had for several seasons, their reputation was excellent and deserved. Ours was good, but not as good and certainly not as visible. We hadn’t yet proven we could play at the same level.
Even with the distinct advantage we had in goal, it would take everything the girls had to win this one. Our keeper has played with us for six seasons, and the other team had to use several willing, but less experienced players to fill that role. That could mean a really big opportunity for us.
But, momentum was clearly on the other side in the first half. Our opponent put lots of pressure on our goal while we sent very few tests their way. They controlled the game at midfield while we fought relatively unsuccessfully to push the ball into their end. Their skills and speed were simply better than ours. They scored, and we didn’t. 1-0, at halftime.
At the break I told the girls that they had proven only that they were not yet as good as the other team. That’s what everyone watching probably expected and thought. So no big deal, right?
Then I asked my team if they wanted to try to change that conclusion. I knew they were capable, but they had to believe it themselves and the only time to do that would be when they stepped back on the field.
For the next thirty minutes there was no quit. No won’t. No can’t. No try.
And it was a thing of beauty. They won balls they had been losing. They increased pressure everywhere. They were just a half step faster than they were before halftime--which was still a half step slower than some of their speedier opponents. But it was enough, and gradually the tide turned.
Some might look at the final score, 3-1, and say that we won easily. Some might say that this win was not significant because the other team was at a disadvantage. Whatever anyone else wants to say is okay with me because I know something special happened. I know different.
At game end, when I walked on to the field to greet my tired, but satisfied team, I saw Steph’s face and Holly’s face and Anna’s face. The look on each was the same and, well, athletic and mature. No longer a child-like countenance, but a competitor’s stare. Too exhausted to smile, they looked me right in the eye as if to say, “we did it, Coach.” And then we slapped hands and bumped fists. No words exchanged.
That was the winning moment, They didn’t overly celebrate, but they were happy. They didn’t strut or show off, but they walked with confidence and poise. They went through the traditional post-game line and shook hands with each of the opposing players and coaches. “Good game,” they said. And they meant it. All the way around.
“We did it, Coach.” Sounds about right.