For the second year, La Jolla Youth Soccer's Impact Girls 2008 team made a deep run into the State Cup Soccer Tournament, but came up short in the quarter finals. The 10-year-old girls finished in the top eight of 103 teams in the Mayor's bracket. The resilient bunch overcame several obstacles this year, including wacky weather, rained-out practices, a short bench, and impending coaching changes.
The tournament kicked off in chilly Lancaster on Jan. 26 with pool play delayed by frost on the fields. For some of these coastal Southern California natives, it was their first time seeing frost. Nevertheless, the team shut out all three teams they faced that weekend, a testament to the suffocating defense led by Caroline Bruner with Sonia Wu and Kira Cole. The defensive feat is even more amazing, considering the team does not have a dedicated goalkeeper, rotating the position every quarter of every game. Haleh Maheronnaghsh, Grace Phan, Natalie Cumming and Cole shouldered the bulk of the goalkeeper burden.
The team played the tournament without their normal center mid-fielder and co-captain, forcing all players to adjust. Crea Kibar brought her belief there is no tackle she cannot secure nor assist she cannot initiate to her new role as center mid and co-captain. Bruner, besides leading the stellar defense, became the team's go-to for corner and free kicks. Phan and Cumming picked up the slack on the wings. Over the course of the tournament, the offense continued to be led by co-captain forward Talia Butler with Cumming, Zara Griffis, Maheronnaghsh and Phan also scoring, and Kibar, Alana Millikan, Wu and Leyla Yazici notching assists in a well-rounded whole-team effort.
Weather more consistent with Germany's Bundesliga than CalSouth continued at the beginning of the elimination rounds with the girls battling in Norco at 8 a.m. in 44 degrees and pouring rain. The stiff wind blowing the smell of horses across the muddy pitch made certain the girls knew they weren't in La Jolla anymore. The stingy defense produced another shutout in that round of 64. They finally gave up a goal, but only off a penalty kick, in the round of 32.
The round of 16 was sweet indeed and returned the girls to Lancaster Feb. 23 for their first come-from-behind victory, in overtime no less. With defenders draped over Butler, the team adapted and forward Griffis tied the game in the second half while midfielder Cumming scored the go-ahead goal in overtime and the defense held on for the win.
Disappointment came in the quarter finals, with the team unable to overcome three goals scored by L.A. United in the first 15 minutes. The team suffered its first shutout of the tournament and the season in a 3 to nothing loss. Tears fell, but as they dried, a gleam of resolve for next year was already shining behind them.