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Sports exploits of the amazing Steadman children.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Penguins Taste Bitter Disappointment For First Time In Defensive Slugfest.

From Left to Right: Taylor Leibig, Jackie McShan, Audrey Madura,
Lauren Atchley, Maura Reilly, Andie Corsino,
Adela Duewel, and Sarah "Roku" Steadman

Dateline: September 20, 2008, Maple Park South Field. Dawn broke on this beautiful Oak Park day with great expectations for the Women of the St. Giles Penguins Football Club. The prior weeks' stifling wet weather was long forgotten, the sun was out, the pitch was dry, and Penguins star playmaker Lauren Atchley was back with the team after a one-game hiatus. The FC Penguins players arrived early for pre-game drills and a new team photo. Coaches Steadman and Reilly emphasized the team's offensive and defensive alignments and preached aggressive play. Optimism ran even higher when the opposing team showed up in peachy orange-pink uniforms, demanding to be called by an unimaginative and remarkably familiar name: the Lady Pink Panthers. Everything looked set for a repeat of the Penguins' blowout win two weeks ago against the hot-pink Lady Panthers.

But the game of football is not to be taken for granted, dear readers. As the Penguins found out, these Pink Panthers were not the Panthers of two weeks ago and the pitch is not always forgiving in the hot sun of a close match.

The first quarter was evenly played. Both teams fought hard, with the Penguins doing an especially good job of keeping the ball in the Panthers' end and taking shots on goal. But the Panthers' goalie was tough, and stopped every shot. Penguins' goalie Maura Reilly matched her shot-for-shot, also stopping every shot. Jackie McShan had several brilliantly executed over-the-head throw-ins to set up offense, but the Penguins simply could not score.

The second quarter was a repeat of the first, but more so. The action turned mainly to the Penguins' defensive end. Sarah Steadman played excellent defense and inserted herself in nearly every play, while Reilly blocked yet more shots. Spark plug Andie Corsino joined Steadman on defense, moving the ball repeatedly and forcefully to the offensive end. But the half still ended in a no-goal draw, and the Penguins retreated from the hot sun for water.

In the third quarter, Lauren Atchley replaced Reilly in goal and gave just as good a report of herself, blocking shot after shot on goal from the Panthers. McShan hammered the ball out of the Penguins' end repeatedly, and Madura had a shot-on-goal herself that was barely blocked by the Panthers' goalie. But still neither team could score and the third quarter ended with the teams deadlocked at zero all.

During the final break, Coach Steadman emphasized that a single goal would probably decide the match, and asked his players for their last ounce of effort. The team responded, truly leaving nothing on the field. Taylor Leibig literally threw herself into the final period, displaying brilliant footwork on several long breaks into the offensive end. Adela Duewel, emulating McShan, hammered the ball out of the defensive end with all her might. Steadman threw her body into a scrum of players to break up a Panthers' offensive wedge, taking a hard kick to the thigh and injuring herself for the second game in a row. But still neither team could score, with both goalies blocking shot after shot. The anxious fans began to anticipate a match decided by a shoot out like the 1990 World Cup.

Alas, fate was not on the Penguins' side this day. With four minutes left on the clock, an unnamed Panther made a blind kick downhill (literally, because the pitch was tilted sharply downhill in both directions away from the center line) that rolled untouched past nearly every player from both teams. The ball scooted past the Penguins' goalie and into the goal to put the Panthers up 1-0. It was a lucky strike for the Panthers, but it was enough to decide the game. Madura (who re-entered the game in the fourth quarter for the injured Steadman) and Leibig gave it their all to keep the offense going, but they simply could not find the net this time. The final whistle blew with the score one goal in the Peach-Pink Panthers' favor. The Penguins returned home with a 1-1 record, and a lot of soul-searching to do before next week's match.

Interviewed after the game, Coach Steadman praised his team and minimized the loss. "The Ladies played hard today. I was really proud of them. The Peachy-Pinks or whatever they are called were tough today, and we just couldn't find the goal. But it's a long season, you know, and we are not going to win every match. The press has been out of control all week, acting like we have already secured the division. But the scenario is we have to win our football games," he said. "It's plain and simple. The magic number is six. We have six more matches. It's so simple. It's kindergarten stuff now. It's a long season and we will work hard to bring home some more victories for our fans." Coach Reilly was proud of the team's effort, "Adversity shows a football club's real strengths. And our team really played hard and supported each other today on a field that was as lopsided as it was unpredictable."

Player Leibig left the pitch with a quizzical statement that appeared to question the fairness of the other team's name selection. "Last week's Panthers were truly pink, so I could see the name Pink Panthers. But this week's so-called Panthers were really more in the orange family to my eye. I think calling themselves the 'Panthers' was a little misleading, no? Tangerines, maybe? Safety cones? Maybe the cantaloupe. But not 'Panthers.' That was not pink as far as I'm concerned, and it really threw us off our game because we were expecting the other pink panthers." League Commissioner Lee Leibig reiterated in his own statement that clubs may choose any name they wish, regardless of color.

Player Sarah Steadman, having been informed that the game was not televised this week, said "I'm really glad we were not on national television like last week. We didn't show our best offensive game this week."

AP photographs of the FC Penguins match can be found here.

The Penguins' chance for redemption comes next week, September 27, 2008 at Holmes School against Coach Julia Bergenske's team. The match is scheduled for 12:15pm, and Coach Steadman again asked players to arrive a few minutes early (by noon) to insure a full practice.

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