As the sun crept below the distant horizon and storm clouds circled above, the Spartans prepared to do battle with Trivium Prep, and a fitting start to the Spartan’s championship run. The Spartans luck started and ended with the winning of the coin toss, as few balls and penalties were favorable. If the Spartans were going to walk away with the victory – they would need to seize it!
Within minutes of the game, the Trivium offensive attack sent a spectacular thru-ball past the Spartan defense to hit a crashing Trivium forward in stride. Rocky Lillie widened her stance in anticipation of the shot which was fortunately struck wide of the goal. This would be the last time Lizzie Eiler, Ana-Cecy Frias, and Grace Ajamie would permit such an easy attack. This was Lizzie’s first game at the helm of the defensive back, and her performance in the match revealed that she had rightfully earned such a responsibility. The Spartan defense was stout throughout the match. Grace calmly dismantled the Trivium offense and used great patience and intelligence to push the ball forward. Late in the second half, Grace was forcefully thrown to the mostly dirt field, which finally earned a favorable call from the ref. Grace, quickly stood up, dusted herself off, and raced back into play – that speaks volumes. Ana-Cecy showed no fear as she throttled towards the Trivium front line to fracture any offensive momentum. Although the Spartans gave up two goals, the goals were the result of bad luck. A questionable penalty in the box awarded Trivium a penalty kick while the other goal was perfectly played by Rocky but slid past because of an unlucky bounce.
The defense was greatly assisted by the intense play of Katie Holford. After nearly 70 minutes of game play, this would be Katie’s defining moment as a player, as a Spartan. Katie found herself involved in nearly every play of the match. She raced to the backfield to collect the ball and pushed it forward into the Trivium back field. Katie did this play after play after play. Every time she traversed the field, she battled to maintain position as she needed to fight off countless defenders. Her pace had to remain fierce, her intelligence had to superb, and her energy had to remain super-human!
Assisting Katie in the central part of the field was Arden Ricotta. Arden continued the exceptional play she displayed against Chandler Prep nearly a week ago. Arden executed play after play with remarkable precision. With each new attack, she remained patient as she calculated the play that would yield the most effective result. Arden elegantly pierced the defense with her exceptional ball control and blinding speed, setting up numerous scoring opportunities. Arden’s maturity, athleticism, and game play were on full display.
Accompanying Arden in the mid-field was Whitney Reinhardt. Whitney, only a sixth grader, played well beyond her years. Her footwork, speed, awareness, and poise resembled that of a US National Team player. Whitney was first to most free balls. She faced down every single challenger, but it was her persistence, coupled with her immense skill, that drove her deep into the 18’ to notch the first goal of the game. It was Whitney’s best performance of the season, during a game in which the best of every girl was necessary.
On the opposite side of the field was Reagan Broderick. Although a minor knee injury would deprive the Spartans of her skill for most of the second half and overtime, the time she spent in the game was critical to the success of the Spartans. Reagan made stunning moves to beat the defense and crack several shots towards goal. The Spartans were rewarded a free kick just outside of the 18’ and it was Reagans foot that narrowly missed sealing the game for the Spartans.
The offensive attack was once again dominated by Kate Hauptman. Kate played with incredible passion as she fought against multiple defenders most of the night. For even the greatest players, overcoming such steep odds is nearly impossible, and yet Kate persisted. Kate, pass after pass, pursued the ball with the same intensity as the last. After the first few minutes of game play, it would be obvious what would be demanded of Kate – and she never backed down. Kate was relentless in her pursuit, and it was that unwavering demeanor and strength of character that earned her the second goal of the game to give the Spartans a 2-goal advantage. Kate often dragged the entire Trivium defense around the field, which left many Spartans, like Kate Willmering open. Kate would once again find the crossbar on numerous occasions and miss the upper ninety by just a few inches.
On the opposite side of the front-line was Kate Willmering. Kate put herself in many great scoring opportunities, several of which were either saved by the goalie or placed just wide of the goal. Kate faced a similar onslaught of defenders, needing to shed several in order to find some breathing room. Kate, like her counterpart, never relented. Kate continued to fight for every ball and forge ahead with her striking speed and elegant ball handling. Kate was forced to navigate unnecessary obstacles such as overly aggressive play and unnecessary castigation by the referees. But, like a true Spartan, she remained calm and instead focused on what she could control.
Starting for the first time as center forward was Madison Koetz, yes, that Madison Koetz who is the best defender in the league. Madison was called to the front-line because of defenses like Trivium. As defenders cluster together and clug-up the box it becomes difficult to land a pass at the feet of Kate and Kate. Our offenders are forced to work with very little field and must try to weave in and out of the network of defenders. Madison uses her body to shield the ball better than anyone in the league and this is an invaluable skill to declutter the box. Madison is able to make rapid, short strikes with the ball rather than longer, speed-based maneuvers that favor the game of Kate and Kate. With each quick move, Madison uses her body to shield the ball rather than her speed. This helped Madison create the necessary penetration to cultivate numerous scoring opportunities. Madison will start once again in the central forward position for Thursday’s semi-final game.
Entering the game and making an immediate impact was Brooke Nicholl. Brooke plays with a fiery passion and immense courage. Brooke fearlessly charged the Trivium front to collapse any offensive attack. Her play on the ball earned her several de-possessions of the ball which she then sent calmly up field to a crashing offender. Brooke’s confidence, courage, and skill brings out a player much bigger than her small frame. Brooke continues to show she belongs out on that field with the best of the players.
Another critical substitute was Sabrina Manero. Sabrina came in as left-mid and was quick to put a shot on goal. Over the season, Sabrina’s confidence has continued to grow, and her growth as a player nearly culminated with a goal.
Maya Nagaraj started as right-mid and throughout the game she used her wonderful speed to set up numerous scoring opportunities. Maya was fed numerous thru-balls up the wing and after taking command of the ball she sliced towards the goal to deliver numerous crosses into the box. Maya’s intelligence found her in the right position for a cross in front of the goal, as Maya prepared to strike, the ball took a poor bounce and moved higher that she anticipated. Late in the second half, Maya drove the ball down the field and placed a well-struck ball on goal. Maya continues to grow as a player, and when the competition intensifies, she has shown the strength to forge ahead.
Another young superstar that entered the same was Siara Bustamante. Siara immediately put her speed to work as she blazed up the right side of the field slashing through the defense. In the first half of play Siara placed a great ball on goal, nearly recording her first goal for the A-team. Siara’s composure, speed, and awareness made her a dangerous player and helped alleviate the pressure being applied to Kate Hauptman.
In nearly 70 minutes of play, neither team could find a way to secure the win, and so, the continuation of a team’s season boiled down to just ten penalty kicks. As the final overtime whistle blew, the Spartan girls slowly crept towards the distant end of the field. At this point, the evening sky had nearly shifted into dark, and only a few storm clouds remained. The Spartans, although they stood alone, they found strength standing together. The pressure was immense. Their families stood silently several yards away on a small border hill surrounding the field. Their only view: a ball, a goal, and the potential outcomes. One-by-one, each girl was called to take their shot. They walked alone to pick up the ball and set it down on the patch of dirt that represented the penalty marker. After placing the ball down, each girl peered up towards the goalie determined to deny them a goal, to deny the Spartans the opportunity to play another day. First up, Kate Hauptman. Calm, cool, and collected, she smashed a perfectly placed ball in the back of the net.
Next, Rocky “The Wall” Lillie was called on to defend the goal. Rocky, not permitted to stand with her team was truly all alone, just her and her racing mind. Rocky stared down her opponent with a frightening stare in the hopes of instilling enough fear to miss the shot. The first Trivium player – she fell victim to that stare. Spartans up 1.
Next, Arden Ricotta wasted no time collecting the ball and placing it on the penalty marker, and immediately after the whistle blow the ball rested nicely in the back of the net.
Rocky was up. As she settled low in her stance she glared at the Trivium player, awaiting the opportunity to deny another shot. This time, however, the Trivium player placed it in the back of the net.
Whitney Reinhardt was next. Very few sixth-grade students find themselves in situations like this, but for Whitney, this was no big deal. As she placed the ball down a slight breeze whipped across the field. Whitney settled in to take the shot, and after the ref blew the whistle she unleased a shot heading toward the back of the net, but it seemed as though the breeze swept the ball just wide of the net. It was Whitney that got us to the shootout, so she could hold her head up high!
Rocky wasted no time to get in the goal, and the Trivium player wasted no time finding a small seam to place the ball in the back of the net.
Grace Ajamie started to make the lonely walk to collect the ball and place it on the penalty marker. Grace lined up her shot as she waited for the referee’s whistle. As the soft sound of the whistle echoed across the field Grace placed a well-struck ball on net, but it was the keeper that made a spectacular play.
The stakes were now high, and the pressure was squarely on the shoulders of Rocky. Score and Trivium moves on. Stop the shot, and the game and advancement into the semi-finals falls into the hands of veteran player Katie Holford. Rocky, unphased, found her footing and stared down the Trivium player. As the ball flew it was clear that Rocky was all over it and with outstretched hands, she slapped the ball down, placing the Spartan fate in the hands of Katie.
Silence consumed the field as Katie walked towards the ball. She calmly placed it on the penalty marker. She made a few steps backward and settled into position. Katie charged towards the ball after the ref blew her whistle. Katie placed a ball to the left corner of the goal. The goalie scrambled to get there as she desperately reached out her right hand. The ball grazed her hand changing its trajectory towards the right post. The ball deflected off the right post, over the goalie’s head and slowly bounced to the back of the net.
The Spartans had won! Cheer erupted from every corner of the field. The Spartans raced to celebrate. Even the coaches let out some good screams of happiness. Courage, determination, compassion – these are the traits of the Spartans.
Running to greet the girls were Samah Choundary, Gianna Ajamie, Ashley Barchas, Ellie Folkestad, Sienna Kindsfater. These players were there ready to enter the field of play and be there as true teammates, as family. They sure earned the win as much as the girls out on the field. Their commitment is special, they are the true definition of what it means to be a Spartan.
Overtime – no problem. Shootout – been there done that. For the remaining teams, you better “Fear the Spartans!”