Carlos Orostieta, head coach: The week before the playoffs, that was a difficult week. Very challenging. The girls, they were in a strange place mentally.
So much of coaching is psychological. Yes, there are tactics and training and all of those very important things, but psychology? Just as important. And perhaps harder to get right.
The girls that week, they were happy we’d made the playoffs, of course, but the way we’d made it? Just sneaking in? That was difficult for them. They’d gotten used to being the biggest dog, eh? But after Hayley got hurt? And then we’d lost our last two games? Suddenly we were no longer the big dog. Wade Central, they were the big dog, and we were the little puppy who had to go fight them.
That was a big change, psychologically. So that whole week getting ready for the playoffs, yes, we needed to fix some things on the field. But more important was fixing our heads. There was a lot of tension. A lot of tension.
High school kids... they’re so young. They’re dealing with things for the first time and, naturally, they don’t always handle those things so well. If you were to ask Kaitlyn Baker about that week, she might tell you that she didn’t handle things so well. Her passion, it was usually a good thing. But that week, it got the best of her, I think. There were some things she would probably want to take back. Especially concerning Chamique Lennox.
Kaitlyn Baker, central midfielder, team captain: I wasn’t angry at Chamique. Far from it. She was just this kid who’d been thrown to the wolves. I didn’t expect her to be Hayley Swanson. No one did.
My complaint was with everyone else. My complaint was with a back four who go from giving up three or four goals the entire year to giving up five goals over a game and a half. My complaint was with a defense that normally gave up maybe one shot over the course of an entire game, and now was giving up six, seven, eight shots on goal. Against a rookie keeper who is in no way equipped to face that.
That’s what I was yelling about. Swanson goes down and suddenly we forget how to play defense? Swanson goes down and suddenly our fullbacks can’t close people out? Our center backs can’t mark their friggin’ man? It was ridiculous. Ridiculous.
So, yeah, I was hot. I did some yelling. Did I piss some people off? Sure. Fine. I didn’t care. They needed to hear it. We were playing our worst soccer of the entire year, we’d barely snuck into the playoffs, and we were getting ready to play an undefeated team. We needed to get our heads out of our butts. And if it took a week of me yelling and screaming at everyone, fine. So be it.
Catalina Forero, center back: I wanted to kill Kaitlyn. Absolutely kill her.
What day was it when we got into that fight? I think it was Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday. She just wouldn’t shut up, you know? She’d made her point. She’d made her point, like, fifty thousand times. And finally, I snapped.
It was right at the end of practice. We were scrimmaging and she was doing her usual thing, being the loudest voice on the field, and... What did she even say that made me snap? I can’t remember. “Talk to Chamique,” maybe. She was constantly on us. “Talk to Chamique, talk to Chamique, talk to Chamique,” just non-friggin’-stop.
So finally, after like fifty thousand times of hearing it, I was like, “Jesus Christ, Kaitlyn, could you just shut up?” But super-loud, super-aggressive, you know? And I think I may have gotten up in her face, too. Did I get up in her face or did she get up in mine? It doesn’t matter, we were there in the middle of the field, all up in each other’s grills, loud as hell, shoving, screaming. There’s girls pulling us apart, Coach is wading in, telling us to cool our heads. It was a scene.
But, you know, here’s the thing... she was right. The back line, we were a mess. Those last two games, all those goals we gave up, those weren’t Chamique’s fault. That was on us. Me and Lisa and Estefania and Sylvia. Without Hayley behind us, talking in our ear, providing that calming voice... without that, we kind of fell apart a little.
So, yeah, I’ll admit that Kaitlyn had a point. But that doesn’t mean I wanted to hear her barking at me all week in practice. Hell, no. I had my pride. Lisa had her pride.
Actually, Lisa may have been even more annoyed, considering Chamique was her girlfriend.
Lisa Roney, center back: It was a tough situation for me. Very tough. And I didn’t know how to handle it.
On the one hand, Chamique was suffering. Really suffering. She didn’t want to be in that situation. She didn’t want be thrown into goal with the whole season on the line. She’d joined the team so she could be the backup to the backup, not so she could be the starting keeper in a playoff game. So there we were, everything going to hell, everyone screaming at everyone else, and she’s right smack in the middle of it. As her girlfriend, I thought I should protect her.
But, on the other hand, Kaitlyn was right. The back four was having serious problems. And what a time to have those problems, right? You’d think that, with a freshman thrown into the game, scared out of her mind, that’s when we should have played better, right? You know, to help her survive. But nope. Instead we just got all confused and unorganized and flustered. All of us. Me, included.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t annoyed with Kaitlyn. I was. Kaitlyn has a gift for that. She’d be like, “God almighty, this isn’t rocket science! It’s soccer! Do your friggin’ job!” And I’d be like, “Back off, Kaitlyn! We’ll handle it!” And she’d be like, “Then handle it! Now!”
It was brutal.
Estefania Higuain, left back: That whole week was horrible. The screaming, the yelling, the fights. I tried to stay out of it, but, you know... I was part of the defense. I was part of the problem.
We scrimmaged a lot that week. Coach Orostieta had us playing 12v11. You know, give the offense an extra man, put the defense under a little more pressure. I guess he figured if we could stand up to a 12-man team in practice, facing 11 players in the game would seem easy, right?
It’s not like I didn’t have enough going on in my life. I was still going straight from practice to the hospital. That week...
Jeez, after 10 years, you think it’d be easier to talk about, wouldn’t you? Sorry.
Hugo... that wasn’t the week he died, but it’s when things started going downhill. I mean really downhill. Fast.
I was still going to the hospital, of course, but he was asleep most of the time. I’d talk to him when I could, but it wasn’t often. I think we only spoke two or three more times.
[clears throat, wipes eyes]
But of course, those last few times, what did he want to talk about? The team. [laughs] I guess if you’re going to die, you might as well go out thinking about soccer, right?
There was a lot to tell him. He loved the Kaitlyn stories, of course, and she was in a permanent bad mood that week, so I got to tell him about all that. I’d have to tell the stories quickly, though. He’d usually fall asleep in the middle of them. He was on a lot of medicine. Not that it was doing any good.
It was a tough week. A very tough week.
Chamique Lennox, goalkeeper: Honestly, I just tried to keep my head down. I was just trying to make it through those practices alive. Coach had me facing extra attackers. That was exhausting. Hayley, she was working with me, trying to get me ready, drill after drill after drill. That was exhausting, too. I was working my butt off.
So yeah, maybe after that first game when I gave up the three goals, maybe I came home and cried. But that passed. Eventually, I just put my head down, worked hard, and stayed out of all the drama. And there was a lot of drama. Kaitlyn and Catalina and Lisa? I didn’t need to get involved with that. I had enough on my mind, thank you very much. Let them fight it out.
Hayley was a big help. It’s pretty cool, you know, telling people that. During this last World Cup, I’d be watching a game with friends, and Hayley would be on TV, and I’d be bragging, telling them, “Oh, yeah, we worked together all the time. Really good friends. Besties.” [laughs]
She was a genuinely good coach, though. I think she liked it. She seemed to, at least.
We did all the usual drills – you know, shot-stopping, distribution, that sort of thing – and that was all fairly decent, I guess, but the thing she kept harping on was communicating with the defense. She was like, “You gotta talk, Chamique. The defense needs you to talk to them, tell them what’s up.”
That was really hard for me. How could I tell Catalina and Lisa and Kaitlyn and all of them, how could I tell them anything? I didn’t know anything. Barking out orders? I just couldn’t do it. I needed the defense to talk to me, not vice versa. Hayley could harp on it all she wanted, but I was pretty much silent back there.
Ugh. What a mess of a week that was. Long, stressful, frustrating. I was almost glad when Friday came around and it was time to play.
Actually, that’s not true. I was miserable. My stomach was in knots the entire day.
Carlos Orostieta, head coach: Our first round game was on the road, of course. Losing those last two games, we were the bottom seed, so all our games would be road games, no? This one, this was at Wade Central. A very big school about an hour north of us. Good team. Very good team. Won their conference three years running.
I called a coach I know, an old friend. He’d played them that year, so I asked what he could tell me about them. That’s about the best you can do for scouting. It’s girls soccer, of course, so there’s never any video to watch. There’s never anything to read about them. I guess over the years we had a few articles about us in the Sycamore Times. After a state title, perhaps. Sometimes a feature story about a special player. But those were rare. A high school football team? A basketball team? They get a little more attention. They have scouting video to watch. But soccer coaches, we don’t have much. That’s the case with most high school sports, I’m sure. Especially the girls.
And when you don’t know much about the teams you’re going to play, what do you do? You work on yourselves. You worry about your own play. If you get your own team playing to their potential, then you’ll be okay no matter what you face. That’s the hope, anyway.
Catalina Forero, center back: It was a pretty long bus ride to Wade Central. I remember it being cold. Cold and clear.
After that crappy week of practice, I remember being pretty nervous, pretty pessimistic, but then when the game kicked off, things felt better. Just smoother, you know? Not Hayley-smooth, of course, but compared to those last couple games? Better. Calmer.
Chamique made a save in the first few minutes. Maybe 10 minutes in. It was on a header, I think. Yeah, I remember it now. Their forward, she was big. Strong. Liked to use her head. She put up a hell of a fight all day. She was the one who had that first shot. A header, just inside the post. It totally could have been a goal. Actually, in Chamique’s first two games, I think it would have been a goal. But this time, she was on it. Got over there and made a really nice save. Super-fast reaction, really stretched herself out, got a strong hand on it. Just a quality, quality save. A Hayley Swanson kind of save. In fact, I remember Hayley over on the sideline, yelling out to her. Something like, “Hell yeah, Chamique! You got this, girl! You got this!”
So, there we were, 10, 15 minutes in, and I’m actually starting to feel pretty good. The defense is feeling smoother, Chamique’s making saves, building confidence, and I’m like, Wow. Have we turned the corner? Are we back? We might be back. We might be able to win this.
Kaitlyn Baker, central midfielder, team captain: It was the 20th minute when it happened. We had a corner kick and someone got their head on it. Lisa, maybe. She got her head on it, but didn’t put it in. It may have gone off the post, actually. I’m not sure. What I do remember is that the ball was bouncing around the box for awhile. We were trying to kick it in, they were trying to kick it out, it was crazy.
Finally, one of their girls got a clean shot at it and kicked it just as hard as she could. Only problem? She kicked it straight into one of her own players and the ball ricocheted back into goal. An own goal!
So there we were, up 1-0. And who do you congratulate after an own goal? No one, really. So we just kind of jumped around and hugged each other, thankful for our good luck. I think I probably said something like, “Okay, girls, we’ve got our goal. That’s all we should need. Let’s win this thing.” Something like that.
We kept that lead until halftime. I was really talking everyone up at halftime, really trying to build confidence. Especially with the defense. Telling Chamique she looked more comfortable, telling the back line they were looking like their old selves.
Maybe I was partially doing it to build my confidence up. Because I knew things were gonna get tougher in the second half. A lot tougher. Wade Central was a good team. The number one team in the state. They were gonna throw everything they had at us.
Carlos Orostieta, head coach: The second half... oh, my. It was like a hurricane. Wade Central, they were pushing forward, pushing forward, keeping us on our heels. I’m sure they had 75% possession in that second half. Maybe more.
When was the penalty? 50th minute? 60th minute? It was Catalina Forero getting called for a hand ball in the box.
Of course, it was a typical scene. After 40 years watching soccer from the sideline, I can tell you, my friend, most penalties are very similar. The referee, he’s blowing his whistle and pointing to the spot. The defense is angry, the offense is happy. I usually didn’t see everything, so I’m on the sideline, trying to figure out what happened, trying to get someone to tell me something. A few of my girls will be surrounding the ref, the other team will be wanting to take the shot, telling my players to leave the ref alone. The ref, he’s pointing at the spot, telling everyone to clear out. [laughs] It is always the same, isn’t it? When they go for you, you are thrilled. When they go against you, you feel the entire universe conspires against you. This is human nature.
So, in this game, the referee, he eventually quiets everyone down. The ball, it is placed on the spot, and Wade Central has a girl out there ready to shoot.
Oh my, you should have seen poor Chamique Lennox in goal. [laughs] She could not have looked more terrified, bless her. Hayley Swanson was next to me, yelling a few things to her – bits of advice – but really, at that point, it’s up to Chamique. All we can do is watch. I’m sure I was standing there, already resigned to the game being tied up, already thinking how the rest of the game would play out. The score would be 1-1, and we’d have 20 minutes to try and find a goal.
But the girl, she misses! I can’t remember which way Chamique dove – left, right, it doesn’t matter – it was the wrong way. The Wade Central girl, she went the opposite way, the goal was completely open for her and she sent it wide! [laughs]
Well, I don’t need to tell you, it was a huge bit of luck for us. Forero gets called for the handball, Lennox dives the wrong way, it should have been tied, but no, no, somehow we’re still up, 1-0.
The question at that point? Could we hold on for another 20 minutes or so?
Estefania Higuain, left back: The rest of that game was awful. Wade Central, they just came at us and came at us, non-stop. I’m not sure I crossed midfield the rest of the game. I was just playing defense the whole time.
Their winger, she was really good. So fast, so aggressive. I wish I could remember her name. The two of us, we were going at it the whole game. They really liked attacking down that side, maybe because she was so good. I think I did a pretty good job against her, but still, they kept attacking and kept attacking. By the end, I was just exhausted.
Lisa Roney, center back: Playoff games are fun. Yeah, sure, they’re exhausting and stressful and desperate, but all that stuff, it’s kind of fun. Wade Central, they were desperate to score, we were desperate to hold them off. It’s simultaneously horrible and fun. Maybe that’s why we love sports, you know? That balance between awful and wonderful.
Anyway, we’re holding them off, holding them off. Chamique, she’d had a few nice saves, which gave her confidence. The rest of the defense, we’re surviving. It’s desperate. Fun, scary, awful, exhausting.
Eventually, we’re in the 80th minute, and the ref says there’s gonna be five minutes of stoppage time. I remember thinking that five minutes was a lot, but I didn’t say anything. Kaitlyn Baker, though. [laughs] You better believe she said something. She was furious. You know how Kaitlyn is. So emotional. She just laid into the ref, told him he was crazy, told him it should’ve been three minutes, tops. You know, just being Kaitlyn.
So clock’s ticking, clock’s ticking, Wade’s attacking, attacking, attacking. I think Chamique made another save. I remember someone blocking a shot. Catalina, probably. Clock’s ticking, clock’s ticking. I’m sort of halfway getting excited, halfway wondering why the ref hasn’t blown his whistle yet. Defend, defend, defend. Absolute madness. I figure the ref’s got to be right on the verge of blowing his whistle, and what happens?
Catalina Forero, center back: Oh, dear God in heaven, don’t get me started on that penalty. It’s been ten years and it still pisses me off. Have you talked to Kaitlyn about it? She lost her friggin’ mind over it. One of the worst calls I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.
Okay, first of all, the game should’ve been over. Hayley was on the sideline, right? She told me she was looking at her watch the whole time. As soon as the game hit the 80th minute, she’d started the timer, and she says we’d already had six minutes of stoppage time. Six! So the game should’ve been over a full minute earlier. But no, that idiot ref kept us playing.
And then the call itself, are you kidding me? One, it was a dive. The girl clearly dove. No one touched her. And two, she wasn’t even in the penalty box! She dives outside the box and the ref calls a penalty. Holy hell, what a call.
Well, no surprise, Kaitlyn Baker lost her mind. She was going insane. Right up in the ref’s face, screaming, waving her arms, pointing at the ground, red in the face. It was amazing. Even by her standards, it was a world-class freak out.
And what happens? She gets tossed. Ref pulls out his red card and points to the sideline. Ejection.
At that point, everyone starts freaking out. I’m talking to the ref, Lisa’s talking to the ref. I think the whole team had surrounded him, trying to convince him to put that red card back in his pocket. Because it meant Kaitlyn couldn’t play in the next game. An ejection means a one-game suspension. If we win this game and make it to the semifinal, Kaitlyn can’t play. So everyone’s out there trying to talk the ref out of it. It’s pointless, of course. No ref in the history of soccer has ever been talked out of a red card.
Kaitlyn... I remember her reaction, because it was so unlike her. When the ref pulled his red card, she went from freaking out to kind of... it was like she’d had the wind knocked out of her. Or like a bubble was popped. She realized, Oh no, I just messed up big time. And knowing her, she was also realizing, I didn’t just screw myself, I screwed my whole team. And I remember, while the rest of us were surrounding the ref, Kaitlyn just walked over toward the sideline, her head hanging low. It was really something to see.
Well, anyway, I don’t know how long we argued with the ref, but he’s ignoring us, just pointing at the spot, and eventually, everyone realizes it’s pointless. Kaitlyn’s been tossed, the penalty’s been called, and the ball’s on the spot. Nothing to do but let them kick it and see what happens.
You know, I said the whole team was surrounding the ref, but that’s not true. Chamique wasn’t. She was just standing in goal looking miserable. Facing two penalties in one game? That’s a tough day for any keeper, much less some freshman kid who’s still figuring out how to play the position.
Chamique Lennox, goalkeeper: It was awful. So awful.
I mean, I was sure they were gonna score. Sure of it. Two PKs in one game? I’d gotten lucky on the first one. I’d totally guessed wrong, the girl had gone the opposite way, and I just got lucky that she missed. This time? No way would I get lucky again.
And secondly, once they tied it up 1-1, we’d have to play extra time – I think it’s either an extra twenty or thirty minutes – and we’d have to play it a man down, because of Kaitlyn getting ejected.
So I was just as low as a person could be. Like, we’d really fought hard that whole game, you know? We’d faced a good team, we’d faced attack after attack after attack and somehow survived. And now, I was going to blow it for everyone. All that work was going to be for nothing.
That’s pretty much where my head was when their girl was lining up to take the PK. Same girl who took the first PK.
Should I dive left? I’d tried that before and the girl had gone right. Dive right? The girl would know I’d do that, so she’d go left. So dive left? Right? I had no idea. My mind was completely locked up. Nothing I did would be right.
In the end, I just kind of stood there. I didn’t dive left, I didn’t dive right, I just stood still, completely frozen, completely unable to make a decision.
And she kicked it straight. Right into my belly. Easiest save anyone could ever make.
I was kind of in a daze, really. The ball was in my arms, teammates are hugging me, and the referee’s blowing his whistle, telling us the game’s over.
It was insane.
Catalina Forero, center back: I was losing my mind. Hugging everyone. I think I cried.
Estefania Higuain, left back: I was crying like a baby. I can admit it. It was just the release of emotions, you know? I’d been thinking about Hugo most of the game, so there was that. Plus, it was just a super-close game. Super-tense. And then, to cap it all off, a PK? So much drama. So much emotion. At the end, we were all holding our breath. So tense, so tense, and then – boom – Chamique makes the save. I just burst into tears. Freaking out, jumping around with everyone, tears pouring down. [laughs] It’s kind of funny, looking back.
Carlos Orostieta, head coach: Everyone around me ran onto the field to celebrate. Even Hayley Swanson. [laughs] She’s lucky she didn’t re-injure her hand out there.
I suppose there was one player who didn’t run out there. Kaitlyn Baker. She was over by herself, head hanging.
Kaitlyn Baker, central midfielder, team captain: I stayed on the sideline. I couldn’t celebrate. The whole team was out there jumping around, but I couldn’t join them. I didn’t think I deserved to, you know? Not after what I did.
Man, I was in a bad place after that game.
Lisa Roney, center back: On the bus ride home, Kaitlyn apologized to the whole team. Stood up in the aisle and apologized for getting kicked out, for missing the next game. She was in tears, actually. I’d never seen her cry before. I didn’t think she could cry, she was so tough. But there she was in the middle of this dark, quiet bus, talking about how she’d let the team down, how selfish she’d been, how sorry she was, and the whole time, tears were just streaming down her face. It was something else.
It tells you a lot about her, really. The team was so important to her. She usually showed that passion by playing hard. Harder than anyone else. But being suspended for the next game, she wouldn’t be able to play hard. She wouldn’t play at all. And it just gutted her. Just devastated her.
It’s funny, there had been so much tension that year between her and Catalina. Between her and a lot of people, really. But if there had been any lingering resentments, any at all, they disappeared that night on the bus. Watching Kaitlyn stand there, sobbing, telling us how she’d let us down... jeez, how can you resent someone with that kind of passion?
I remember she said something like, “If you guys can get through the semifinal without me, if you can get us to the championship game, I swear to God, I will come back so strong. There won’t be anything that can stop us. I swear. Just get us through this next game.”