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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Torpedoes sink Cool Blue in Season Opener

Dateline: September 12, 2009, Lindberg Park North. Returning to the league from his undefeated campaign with Inferno in 2008, Head Coach David Nikolai had high hopes for his new assignment this year. "Blue Torpedoes sport a number of veterans and will be tough to beat. The ladies have put in excellent practice so far, and look very determined. We have high hopes for the squad," he said before Saturday's opener.

Opening day in football is always celebratory affair -- every team has high hopes, and everyone starts undefeated. But Torpedoes opener was special even by these standards, because their first opponent was their St. Giles Cup rival, Cool Blue. Like Torpedoes, The Blue showcase seasoned veterans including last year's U8 League MVP Maggie VanErmen. "Mags is scary," says Torpedoes defender and best friend Sarah Steadman. "She's very quick, she's very determined, she's very loud, and she's everywhere."

On this glorious morning, with the sun breaking through and the heat index rising, Blue Torpedoes took the pitch looking as pressed and drilled as any EU Cup squad. The roster includes a number of battle-tested U10-ers, and some newly-promoted U10/veterans of the U8 league in 2008:

  • Number 2, Maura Reilly, Midfielder
  • Number 3, Emma Nikolai, Center/Forward and Goalie
  • Number 4, Taylor Leibig, Midfielder and Utility Player
  • Number 5, Sarah Steadman, Defense
  • Number 6, Helen Leboe, Center/Forward
  • Number 7, Katie Bodlak, Midfield
  • Number 8, Jada Harris, Winger
  • Number 9, Erin Sullivan, Winger and Goalie
  • Number 10, Lauren Flowers, Winger
  • Number 11, Kelsey Buress, Defense
  • Number 12, Braley Failor, Winger/Midfielder

In the first quarter, Coach Nikolai arranged his team for scoring: Emma Nikolia in goal, Steadman and Buress on Defense, Flowers and Bodlak in the Midfield, and power scoring trio Leboe, Harris and Failor up front. Torpedoes did an excellent job of keeping the ball in Blue's side, repeatedly getting behind Blue with their superior speed. Leboe led the scoring with a brilliant breakaway goal, followed by breakaway goals from Sullivan and Harris to stake Coach Nikolai to a 3-0 lead. Torpedoes' defense was stout, with Burress and Steadman repeatedly hammering into the scrum to keep the ball in the offensive half. Though goalie Nikolai faced few shots, she was perfect and had a brilliant block to hold the shutout. As it turned out, there was plenty of football to go but the three-goal lead was all Coach Nikolai would need.

The match slowed down for both sides in the second quarter. Coach Nikolai realigned his team, with Leboe in goal (trading positions with Nikolai), Burress and Failor on defense to hold the lead, Flowers and Sullivan in midfield, and Reilly and Leibig joining Nikolai up front. Both sides buckled down and traded blows, with The Blue tightening down to hold the match in place. There was no scoring but several nice shots and blocks, and after 25 minutes of football the match remained Torpedoes 3, Cool Blue 0.

During the short halftime, Torpedoes guzzled Gatorade and listened to Coach Nikolai's adjustments in strategy. He emphasized the Torpedoes' advantage in speed, and asked his team to try to stay behind The Blue defense. He then realigned the team again for the third quarter, resting Failor and Burress, and sending a smaller and quicker set to the pitch. Sullivan took the goal, with Steadman and Flowers on defense, Leibig and Reilly in midfield, and Bodlak, Nikolai and Harris up front.

The third quarter provided mixed results for Torpedoes. On the bright side, Leibig showed real spunk dashing around the pitch and tracking down the ball on both offense and defense. "Wow, she's fast," said Coach Nikolai. "She was the fasted player on the pitch in U8," echoed Assistant Coach Paul Steadman. Less positive was the score. The Blue fielded its biggest, fastest players on offense against Torpedoes smaller set, which ultimately yielded two quick goals by The Blue-and-white stripers, closing the match to Torpedoes 3, Cool Blue 2.

The sides now adopted the same strategy for the fourth and final quarter, each fielding stout defense while bolstering offensive firepower in the hopes of closing out the match. Coach Nikolai changed not only his lineup, but the formation as well. Sullivan remained in goal, Steadman, Burress and Bodlak were put on defense with instructions to stop whatever came their way, while Leboe, Harris and Failor were put on offence with instructions to blow the back out of the net. Leibig alone was assigned midfield with instructions to help both ends.

Early in the final quarter, The Blue had a controversial breakaway which ended with the ball in Torpedoes' net. "She's offsides!" screamed Torpedoes Coach Nikolai. The Referee agreed, waiving off the goal. The Blue's coach went out of his mind. "You can't call the match from the sidelines! The ball went off a Torpedo anyway. It wasn't offsides!" But it was all for naught as play resumed, the score still 3-2.

The remainder of the final quarter was a see-saw affair until Leboe scored a huge insurance goal midway through the period on a half-field breakaway with Failor that sunk The Blue. Torpedoes loyalists went mad with joy, and shortly thereafter the final whistle blew, ending the contest.

"We had a lot of energy today," said Assistant Coach Steadman after the match. "Our girls really came together as a unit and helped each other. They surprised me with their speed, and they beat Blue to the ball eight times out of ten." Coach Nikolai told the team: "We did a good job of getting to the ball first. You showed great effort. See you at practice on Tuesday."

Players for both sides gathered for a St. Giles Cup photo on the bloody pitch, friends again after a hard-fought match. But shortly thereafter, controversy flared. Maggie VanErmen, top talent for The Blue, had apparently spent the week at school declaring impending victory for her side -- only now, she had to hear it from the victorious Torpedoes. "We'll see you again in the tournament at the end of the season," she declared, "and don't look for any mercy from us then."

Meanwhile, Sarah Steadman had to adjust her nickname for her new jersey number. Known as "Roku" last season (Japanese for her jersey number 6 when she played with Penguins in U8), she now wears 5. "Henceforth, I shall be known to the press as 'Go-San' if you please," she declared, lecturing reporters on the Japanese translation for her new jersey number 5. "The word 'Go' fits me better in both English and Japanese anyway," she said. "I like to go. As in, go kick butt."

Game photos available here:
2009 09 12 Torpedoes sink Cool Blue in Season Opener

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