Coach Darby’s whistle shrieked. “Interception! Great job, Devin!”
I beamed. “Thanks, Coach!” I called back. We were on the soccer field at Pinewood Rec Center, practicing with my winter league team, the Griffons.
The regular school soccer season was over until the spring, and I’d been going into serious soccer withdrawal until my friend Jessi had suggested we try out for the winter league. Some of us on the Griffons were students at Kentville Middle School in Kentville, California. We played soccer for the Kentville Kangaroos, or the Kicks, as most people called us. When the Kicks’ season had ended, I’d been crushed. But now I was back on the field doing what I loved most!
I passed the soccer ball I had stolen during our scrimmage to Jessi, who in turn kicked it to Kelly. I was teamed
up with Jessi, Kelly, and Zarine. We were squaring off against Mirabelle, Lauren, Sasha, and Tracey. The rest of the Griffons were watching us as they did some basic dribbling on the sidelines.
“I want to give everyone a chance to touch the ball,” Coach Darby said before she broke us into smaller groups. Scrimmages are practice games between members of the same team. Most of the time we scrimmaged with the whole team. Today was different. It was only 4 on 4. No one in goal, so each team’s defender had to keep an eye out for scoring threats.
“All four of your teammates must touch the ball before scoring, or else the goal doesn’t count,” Coach Darby said.
That meant we all had to kick the ball before trying to make a goal. So Kelly kicked the ball to Zarine, who sent it back my way. Since all four of us had handled the ball, I was ready to go for a goal. But Mirabelle swooped in and stole it from me. Coach Darby’s whistle sounded again. “Nice work, Mirabelle!”
The other team had possession. Lauren passed the ball to Mirabelle, who passed it back to her. Lauren eyed Sasha. I moved in, but the ball skirted just out of my reach before Sasha had possession. She sent it to Tracey, and I once again narrowly missed it. Tracey sent the ball to Lauren, but her shot was a little wide. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. I intercepted the ball. Focusing on accuracy, I kicked the ball to Kelly, who sent it back to me. I passed it to Jessi, who swooped in, narrowly missing an
attack by Mirabelle. Jessi lobbed it to Zarine, who scored.
“Nice work!” Jessi high-fived me as Coach Darby’s whistle blew.
“Everyone over here!” Coach barked, and the Griffons, who were on the sidelines, came running over.
“Time for the shooting gallery!” Coach Darby shouted with a little smile on her lips.
Her announcement was met with half the team groaning and the other half clapping. Coach Darby’s version of a shooting gallery drill was fun, but it was pretty exhausting, so it was always met with a mixed reaction. That was why Coach, who didn’t usually smile much, had a small grin on her face.
“You’re up first, Devin.” Coach pointed to just outside the penalty area, where she had placed the ball.
The drill involved lots of running and shooting, which was pretty intense, but I loved it. The object was to try to make goals from several different spots in the goal zone, running from one point to another as quickly as possible. Teammates would pass a ball to the shooter at each spot. Each player tried scoring goals not just from different places but in different ways, such as kicking it in or heading it in.
I started by taking a basic shot into one of the corners of the goal. Then I had to sprint to the penalty spot and shoot a ball.
For my next attempt, Jamie was waiting to pass a ball to me, and she sent it a little wide, so that I had to run to
get it. When I looked up at her with an annoyed expression on my face, I saw her smirk. Yeah, I realized, she had totally done that on purpose. (Jamie had never really liked me.) But I kept going, racing to one side of the goal box and heading into the net a ball tossed to me by Coach Darby.
As fast as I could, I ran to the other side of the goal box and waited for Katie to toss me a ball, which I also headed into the net. Then I was racing back again to the penalty spot, where Jessi was ready and waiting. She passed a soccer ball to me, and I shot it into the goal.
“Good control, Devin!” Coach yelled as the next up, Kelly, took my place.
As I watched Kelly run through the routine I had just performed, I took a minute to catch my breath. I was panting hard.
After Kelly finished, she came walking over to me, breathing heavily, her hands on her hips. She threw herself onto the grass at my feet.
“That was brutal,” she moaned dramatically.
I laughed. Kelly was one of the toughest players on the team, and I knew she could take it. She smiled up at me and laughed too. I was amazed at how much things had changed. When the winter league had begun just a few weeks before, the other members of the Griffons hadn’t been very friendly. Everyone had been ultracompetitive and focused on themselves. Soccer was a team sport, so that meant we hadn’t been playing very well to begin with.
But once we’d broken the ice and everyone had gotten to know one another, not only had practice become more fun, but we’d also started winning. Coach Darby, who was all about competition, even among her own players, had loosened up a bit too.
After the last of the Griffons finished up the shooting drill, Coach had us cool down by walking around the field and doing some stretches. “Great practice, everyone. Way to hustle! See you tomorrow.”
Everyone started to walk off the field, until Jessi yelled, “Wait!” Heads turned as my friend waved everyone back. Jessi was definitely not shy. “We forgot something!”
Coach Darby frowned, but Jessi kept going. “The team cheer! We said we would figure it out today, remember? We’ve got a game on Saturday, and we have to get the cheer ready.”
Squeals filled the air.
“I’ve got one!”
“Let’s do it!”
Even Coach Darby smiled. “Let’s see what you got, girls.”
Everyone gathered together, excited to share their ideas, except for Jamie, who looked back at us, rolled her eyes, and kept walking to the parking lot. On the Kicks we had competed against Jamie and her school team, the Riverdale Rams. Jamie played dirty and had even masterminded a plot to sabotage the Kicks. She had been
seriously unhappy when she’d found out she and I were on the same winter team together, and she had taken it out on me on the field. But once the Griffons had started gelling, nobody had wanted to put up with her bad behavior anymore. She mostly kept to herself now, which I counted as a win. Anything was better than her pushing and stealing the ball from her own teammates!
With Jamie gone I knew that coming up with a cheer would be a total blast, with no one to put us down for having fun. I turned to the group, with plenty of my own ideas, as Sasha asked, “What about ‘Olé’?”
As soon as the word was out of her mouth, all of us started singing the popular soccer anthem.
“Olé, olé, olé, olé, olé,” we chanted along together, jumping around with silly smiles on our faces.
When we finished, Katie chimed in with an idea. “How about, ‘Let’s go, let’s fight, Griffons gonna win tonight!’?”
She ended it by throwing her hands out in front of her, her palms out and fingers spread wide. “Jazz hands!” she said with a laugh.
Everyone laughed along with her and tried to add their own silly dance moves to the mix. Jessi grabbed her foot and bent her leg at the knee behind her. Balancing on one leg, she began to turn in a circle, with her other arm behind her head, moving her elbow back and forth toward her face. “The Sprinkler!” she shouted.
Soon we were all doing the Sprinkler—some better than others. A few of us face-planted on the soccer field,
yet I managed to hold my own. None of us could stop laughing, even those of us who wound up eating grass.
Coach Darby’s loud “Ahem!” brought us back to reality. “I don’t think the Sprinkler or jazz hands are what you’re looking for. You need something to motivate you and get you pumped up for the win,” she said, all business, as usual.
“How about ‘I Believe’?” I suggested. It was one of my favorite soccer chants.
This suggestion was met with immediate approval. We all got together in a huddle, arms around one another. I led the chant.
“I believe—” I shouted loudly.
My teammates yelled back. “I believe!”
“I believe that—” I yelled.
“I believe that!” the Griffons responded.
“I believe that we—” I smiled, knowing the fun part was coming up.
“I believe that we!” the Griffons echoed.
Then we all went nuts, jumping up and down as a group while we moved around in our circle to the right.
“I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!” we roared.
“Switch left!” yelled Mirabelle. “I’m getting dizzy!”
We began jumping to the left, chanting “I believe that we will win!” as we went. Then we stopped, extended our arms to the middle of the circle, and piled our hands on top of one another.
“Go, Griffons!” we yelled as we raised our arms to the sky.
I’d never thought I would be this happy to be a Griffon, but I was. And I did believe that we could win!