At 9:30 AM the Blue Lagunas would face down their first opponents – a red clad team from Riverside. Just prior to the match starting, the entire Blue Lagunas squad met the opposing team in the center of the field to shake hands and offer them a small gift in a show of good sportsmanship (a magnet from Laguna Beach). The token was very well received by the other team, and tensions seemed to abate just a little as Riverside cheerily expressed their thanks.
The moment passed quickly however, and both teams got down to business a few minutes later. The field we would play on was small and particularly narrow. We generally prefer a larger pitch where we can use two of our greatest assets, our speed and conditioning. Physically Riverside was not a big team, but immediately they showed they had a sharp passing game, moving the ball fluidly from one side of the field to the other. On a small field, their passing was nullified by our speed and aggressiveness to the ball, and it wasn’t long before we used their passing game to create turnovers. Once we had gained possession, we immediately went on the attack and began to implement what has become our best offensive strategy, the through ball. There was a collective sigh of relief from the sidelines as Hallie worked her way forward and broke the ice for us, sending a beautiful shot into the net. Before the quarter was over, Jordan would send an assist from the left side again to Hallie, who scored her second goal for the Blue Lagunas.
Q2 we pushed on with confidence, our nerves a bit more settled. From the right, Morgan would give a pass to Piper in the center who pounded in our third goal of the game.
3-0 Blue Lagunas at half time.
By the start of the second half, it seemed we had broken Riverside’s fighting spirit, and their players got more and more sluggish as we constantly pushed the pace of the game on our surprisingly fresh legs. Our next goal would come as a result of a perfectly placed 6 foot pass from Anika to Morgan who took two touches and put the ball to the left side of the goalie. Goal five came from Cosette driving hard down field past two defenders to give herself a one-on-one with the goalie. We pitied anyone trying to get in front of the fearless Cosette at a full run.
After Jordan scored early in the fourth quarter, we pulled Hallie back to center defense so as not to run up the score. Our plan didn’t exactly work out though, as our girls’ momentum could not be halted. Next would come a goal from Kennedy, who had played brilliantly as keeper for us, off of an assist by the ever-active Jordan. Piper then also snuck in her second goal of the game before the whistle ended the semi-finals.
We had passed our first test with flying colors, an 8-0 victory without a single shot on our goal, thanks in large part to Ella, Peri, Riley and Jordan who played rock solid defense. Those girls would turn out to be the back bone of our success all tournament, with intelligent and aggressive defensive play.
The team had time to grab a quick bite to eat, then it was back to the field for our finals match at 2 PM. The weather, which up until now had been kind, took a change for the worse. Gusty and shifting winds up to 20 miles per hour were punctuated by periods of cold downpour. There was no hiding from Mother Nature and players and spectators alike were soaked before the game even began.
Our opponents for the finals would be a very different team than we had faced in the semis. Corona was a physically large team, who came with a head of steam as a result of a perfect 11-0 undefeated record leading into the finals. Like Riverside, they also had Club players on their roster, and we knew from scouting them a little that #4 and #6 were both very skilled with the ball and big physical players. Again our token gifts brought smiles to our opponents faces, and we were reminded that they are all still just 8-10 year-old girls after all is said and done.
We adjusted our strategy a bit, and had our right midfielders mark #4 whenever the ball was going against us, and it seemed to do enough to slow things down that our defense could come in and finish the job.
Clearly Q1 showed this was a different team than we had played in the morning, as they came out ready to take it to us. For 12 ½ minutes we would battle mostly in the midfield, and both teams were able to hold each other scoreless. Q2 the wind picked up even more, to the point it felt like we had two opponents, and was at times so strong that it would blow our throw ins back out of bounds before we even got a chance to play the ball. Just before half time, we struck gold as Cosette battling for the ball in front of the goal would give an opening to Morgan who was able to secure a goal for us.
1. Blue Lagunas at half time.
Corona turned up the heat in the second half, and started to use their size; the result of which was several sore knees, hacked ankles and various scrapes for our smaller framed girls from Laguna Beach. Corona tried and tried desperately to penetrate our defense, giving the ball to the outsized #4 over and over, but we persisted in closing space and never giving her room to get anything accomplished. We had one scare, in what would be the only shot on goal we would have to defend the entire tournament, when the ball got played out to the right to a speedy little Corona striker. She took a fast hard shot, but our Hallie was there to make the save in dramatic fashion. No score from either team in Q3, leaving the match at 1-0, which was too close for us to feel any kind of comfort.
In Q4 the coaches’ hoarse voices of encouragement would compete against the howling wind and rain. The Blue Lagunas pressed on, and we almost had our second goal when Jordan sent diagonal pass from the left and Hallie and Anika fought with the keeper and Corona’s defense in the box. Eventually we were able to get in the second goal, fittingly from Piper, who had played so well for us in center midfield all tournament (her ball handling was a sight to behold). Corona got more desperate feeling the noose tightening, and pushed harder, passing to #4 up top at every given opportunity. Despite being drenched to the bone, shivering and dead tired, we pulled out our secret weapon, our heart, and held on for six more minutes of intense defensive play from Peri and Ella.
After what seemed like and eternity, the center ref blew the final whistle and we rushed together with unbridled jubilation and emotional cries of elated congratulations. Ten girls from a relatively small town stood as victors, the best EXTRA team in the largest, most populous state in the country. California State Champions!
Perhaps more than any games in recent memory this felt to us like a real team effort. Every girl contributed to our success, and we would not be where we are now if not for the efforts of each individual’s contributions to the whole.
We have many good things yet to come, including the second half of our Spring Select season where we will be again joined by the enthusiastic Karmen and Lizzy, several local tournaments (details to come) and the National Games in July.
For now however, we spend time celebrating the glorious gift of victory our girls gave us this weekend.