Dateline: October 25, 2008, Maple North Field Mudpit. FC Penguins won a muddy wrestling match this morning to improve their record back into winning territory, and prove their critics in the media decidedly wrong.
Overnight rain closed many of the pitches in Oak Park, cancelling most league matches, but the fortunate Penguins were scheduled to play at Maple North. Play on that pitch was left "to the discretion of players and coaches." "We would have played in a hurricane, or a peat bog, anything." said Audrey Madura. "We were hyped up and ready to go." Jackie McShan was excused by coaches for family obligations, and Lauren Atchley was excused for an educational obligation, but despite the weather a quorum of six Penguins suited up ready to play. The scheduled opponent, on the other hand, was not so hardy. Only four blue-uniformed Stars appeared, and the match was minutes from being defaulted to the Penguins. Just then, four players and a coach from Team USA marched over the small hill from Maple South, announcing that their opponent had failed to show up at all, and asking if anyone needed a few extra players! The Penguins announced they were game to take on both Stars and Team USA, and so play began.
The turf was boggy, muddy in the best places and more like a pond in others. Clods of wet earth stuck to every cleat. As play went on, the torn turf became ever muddier, covering the ladies with wet loam and slowing play. "We didn't care a bit," said Andie Corsino, looking especially tough with a bandage scarring her left cheek. "We came determined to get our match in. Send us into quicksand, send us three or even four teams to play against. We're game. We're ready. Bring it on and come what may!"
As the match started, the Penguins fielded Maura Reilly in goal, Madura and Sarah "Roku" Steadman on defense (with instructions from Coach Steadman to play "up" on the offensive end), and Corsino, Adela Duewel and Taylor Leibig on offense. The Penguins' spirit was undampened by the wet weather, but their footing certainly was affected. Madura, Steadman, Leibig and Corsino all had shots either blocked or just wide of the pipes. The Penguins did keep the ball squarely in the Blue and Red end, however, and Reilly was tested at goal only once, making an easy block.
In the second quarter, Reilly kept the goal, Steadman and Madura held onto their defensive positions, Leibig and Corsino stayed on offense. A special guest, first-grader Alexis Zeiser, joined the Penguins' crew on offense to complete the side. Madura had a shot on goal early in the second, followed by Taylor, as the Penguins again kept the ball in their opponents' end. Then, midway through the second period, Taylor threw-in from near the corner over the heads of the assembled Stars and TeamUSA. Her throw connected to Madura, who trapped the ball, turned, and hammered it into the Blue and Red side's goal. Celebration ensued.
The teamwork was exactly what the Penguins' fans have come to expect from this all-star crew. "Like clockwork," said fan Nancy Leibig. Madura had another shot on goal (her fourth of the match) and Taylor and Corsino teamed up for a nice pass combo that ended in TeamUSA's goalie's hands, but there were no more goals and the half ended with the Penguins up 1-0.
By this time, both teams were streaked with mud. The Penguins, in their white jerseys and white socks, looked like refugees from a landslide. Mud was everywhere -- legs, arms, shirts, cheeks, and foreheads. Coaches Steadman and Reilly, fighting the cold and wet, revved the team for a rough second half and cleaned out cleats with a spare screwdriver.
For the third quarter, the Penguins mixed it up with Leibig in goal, Madura and Duewel on defense, Zeiser, Corsino and Reilly on offense. Madura took the game on her shoulders, but the footing took its toll. Madura had four consecutive shots on goal -- wide right, wide left, wide left, and wide right, in that order. With defenders Madura and Duewel playing offense from their defensive positions, the Stars/TeamUSA had a huge, undefended breakaway. Penguins fans feared the worst, but streaking down the pitch, Leibig rushed the breakaway and grabbed the ball for a brilliant save. Zeiser took over where Steadman left off the last few matches, throwing her body into the fray and breaking up plays -- and muddying her pretty dress coat, which she wore over her borrowed Penguins' uniform to hold out the cold. Corsino had a final shot on goal to end the period, which was blocked by the oppositions' goalie. The whistle blew, out came the screwdriver, up went cleats, out went the mud. Teeth got gritted for the final push, and play resumed.
In the fourth quarter, Leibig stayed in goal, Steadman and Madura played defense, and Zeiser, Corsino and Duewel played offense. Madura, frustrated with the endless mud and bad footing, got physical with the largest opposing player, trading elbows and shoulders on several breakaways. Corsino had another shot on goal. Zeiser planted her face in several more plays, and had a brilliant steal. But there were no more scores and the Penguins killed the clock to take the match 1-0.
Cold, wet celebration ensued again.
Recent weeks have featured plenty of post-match controversy for the team, and this week was no exception. Most observers assumed the Penguins' record improved to 4-3 with this win, but the ladies disagreed. "We played two teams today, the Stars and Team USA," said Roku Steadman. "We showed up, they didn't. Had we not even played, we would have gotten a simple default win. But instead we played both teams, simultaneously. We beat them both. So as far as I'm concerned, we got two wins today and our record by all rights is 5-3. If the press and the league don't understand that, then they are as stupid as they look."
Commissioner Leibig, head of the league, took exception. "I don't think I look stupid. Do I look stupid? Nancy, do you think I look Stupid?"
No, dear," replied Nancy Leibig. "You look no stupider than you did yesterday."
"See, I told you so. I don't look that Stupid. I knew I was right about that." Leibig said.
Reached at her home, fan Kathy McGrath had "no comment" on whether Commissioner Leibig looks stupid.
The AP named Leibig player of the game. Photos of the match can be found here.
Stupid or not, the Penguins play their final match of the season next week, November 1 at 1:30pm against Paul Franciszkowicz's Team 24 at Maple North Field.
Sports exploits of the amazing Steadman children.