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Average Pro | Sports writer kicks it with Klahowya soccer team
Don’t hit my head.
That’s all I could think when I walked onto the indoor field crowded with Klahowya Secondary School’s varsity boys soccer players aiming to take me out.
Don’t get me wrong, I initiated the challenge of trying to block 10 penalty kicks from the Eagles, while in return, I tried scoring on three of their goalkeepers at the Olympic Soccer and Sports Center in Bremerton last week.
My only fear was my head. Check that – hair.
I spend a lot of time on my hair and the last thing I need is an errant kick messing up a morning of slick combing with $1 hair gel. After zipping up my jacket, tying my shoes tight, borrowing a pair of keeper’s gloves and of course, fixing my hair, I anxiously walked to the net as the team looked on.
There are few plays in sports more thrilling than penalty kicks, a high-stakes conclusion to matches that go past extra time.
The most famous penalty kick showdown in recent memory came at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, when the United States defeated China in a shootout that ended with Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey in jubilation.
I’m not taking off my shirt. I think it’s best for everyone.
The first few kicks from Klahowya were child’s play for the high schoolers. I guarded the net looking like a Buckingham Palace guard, standing still and nearly emotionless as the ball whizzed by me.
Penalty kicks always look simple enough on television, except if you’re the goalkeeper. Now, after watching several fit professional athletes get fooled in shootouts, it was my turn to get embarrassed. But I didn’t go down without a fight.
I had the 6-foot-5 stature, and a little extra weight, to help me block. All that was left was determination of a sports writer who obviously bit off more than he could chew.
The next kicker lined up for a shot and drove the ball wide left. That’s one.
My eyes widen and heart pumped a thousand beats a minute, which was from yet another pregame Mountain Dew.
After finally striking the team with the fear that I was for real, I couldn’t wait for the next kick.
The ball was drilled, aimed for the corner of the net, only to find itself in my palms inches from reaching the goal. I rolled the ball back to Klahowya with a “What?!” attitude and cocksure grin. I kept my hair in check to look good for the camera. All was well.
As usual, my inflated ego led to delusions, this time that I could someday be a goalkeeper for Team U.S.A. My daydreams came to an abrupt halt when the Eagles struck back.
I blocked the next kick, jumping a whole two inches off the ground to keep pace. I’m not a big fan of leaping for the ball so I let my long arms do the work.
We entered the 10th and final kick with Klahowya’s goal total at five. The pursuit for mediocrity was still in tact. Then, the worst case scenario came true.
Their final kicker had the audacity to send a scorcher toward my face. I’m sorry that I care about my looks, but there’s no way I’m blocking this kick with my nose. I suppose a concussion was also a worry, but mostly the hair.
In the most non-athletic move of my life, and quite possibly the worst block in soccer history, I extended my arms and shielded my head as the ball looked like it was growing in size, coming closer to its target.
The ball smacked my palms and landed to the ground. I was overwhelmed with relief. After kicking five of 10 kicks – with me being personally responsible for blocking three – I thought about uttering John Travolta’s famous lines as Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever.”
“Watch the hair!”
Instead, I stayed quiet, knowing I had 10 kicks of my own ahead. After taking off the keeper’s gloves that were more expensive than my entire outfit, I placed the ball on the red circle and dreamt of Chastain. Her game-winning kick, of course.
Klahowya head coach Jeff Quinn tried to get into my head, convincing me that my big feet were a so-called problem.
“Are those size 15 shoes? Because that’s a problem,” Quinn said.
I brushed off his mind games and stared down three of his goalkeepers. My feet weren’t an issue. I repeated that to myself for as long as I actually believed it, which was the third kick.
For 10 kicks, I tried every trick in the book. I kicked in the corner, aiming high, hesitating on the wind-up and the straight shot down the middle. But after three kicks, my right foot felt like mush and the following seven tries were hopeless.
I missed every penalty shot, limping off the field with a hurt ankle and an immaculate hair-do.
The Eagles had a 50-game losing streak when we met, but that hasn’t stopped Quinn’s team from competing, albeit in a friendly contest. Klahowya ended its three-year drought with a 1-0 win against Black Hills High School (Olympia) the day after they met me.
The coach leveled my expectations.
“It’s harder than it looks,” Quinn said. “It’s different once you actually get out there.”
I’m confident I’ll make at least one penalty kick in my next showdown on the soccer field.
In the meantime, I’m off to ice this ankle with a bruised ego. But I’m going to look good doing it.