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“Now class, does anybody know what the capital of Wyoming is?” Ms. B the social studies teacher asked. “I’m so bored,” Matt groaned, looking half asleep as if the only thing that could keep him awake was thinking about tryouts after class. “Yeah, me too,” Billy agreed.
Matt and Billy have been best friends ever since second grade when Billy first moved into the house across the street from him. They live in Bay City, Oregon, a small town just outside of Springfield. The two boys attend Windsor High school, just across the street from the neighborhood. Matt loved to play soccer, and he was planning on trying out for the varsity team this spring. Billy, on the other hand, loved to swim for the local swim club called Extreme Aquatics, and play golf whenever he got the chance to.
RING! “Finally, I thought class would never end,” Matt shouted, almost straining his voice. “Yeah, me too,” Billy replied. “Hey,” added Matt. “You want to come to tryouts with me and hang around? I’m thinking about trying out for the varsity team.” Matt persuaded, trying to convince Billy to come. “Are you crazy?” Billy whispered. “No freshman has ever made varsity in any sport here at Windsor High,” Billy commented quietly. “We may be a small school, but the varsity teams here are phenomenal, especially the soccer team.
They’ve made it to the state semifinals the past three years in a row,” he explained. “Matt, you’ve got to be really good if you want to make the team,” he said. “Oh, and one more thing Matt,” Billy added. “The guys on the varsity team are huge. So I’d hit the gym if I were you, especially if you don’t feel like getting trampled,” he pointed out. “Thanks,” Matt replied. “You still never answered my question earlier,” Matt commented, Billy looking at him in a confused manner. “So are you coming to tryouts with me or not?” He wondered. “Sorry I can’t, I’ve got swim practice in a half hour,” Billy replied, looking disappointed. “Alright, I’ll see ya tomorrow then,” Matt said. “Yeah, see ya,” Billy replied
Matt headed back upstairs to his locker so he could grab his gym bag for tryouts. But, when he opened the locker, nothing was there except his math textbook and his science binder, so he panicked. “Oh no, I can’t believe I forgot all my stuff at home,” he cried. “And tryouts start in less than an hour,” he complained. “Alright, if I run down to MC Sports, grab a pair of cleats, shin guards, and socks, then maybe I can get back to tryouts with just enough time to warm up and stretch before Coach Smith arrives,” Matt thought to himself quietly.
Matt quickly shoved all his books and binders inside his backpack, and sprinted down the stairs, and ran through the school’s front doors as fast as his little feet could carry him. About half way there, Matt saw an old, beat-up bike lying at the corner of a driveway, in front of what looked like an old abandoned warehouse.
He quickly picked up the beaten bike, hopped on, and rode down to MC Sports. He arrived with just enough time to take a quick look at what kind of cleats and shin-guards they had in stock. Matt quickly found a pair of red and blue F50’s he really liked, along with an all white pair of shin guards to match his cleats. He quickly turned around and grabbed a pair of green and yellow socks. Green and yellow were his favorite colors, because his favorite sports team is the Oregon Ducks, and their uniform colors were green and yellow.
Matt gathered all his things and made his way up to the check out line. When he got up there, he realized there was a mini refrigerator carrying fresh Gatorade, and PowerAde. Matt opened up the tiny fridge, and grabbed a Frost Glacier Freeze Gatorade, his favorite. He then put all his things on the counter, and waited for the cashier to give him his total. “That will be $45.67,” the cashier said in a deep, but frightening tone. Matt quickly ran out the door; he put the bag that all his soccer stuff was in around his right handle bar, hopped back on his bike, and rode his way back up to school like there was no tomorrow.
When Matt arrived back at school, he was already five minutes late for tryouts. Everyone was already standing in a straight line in front of Coach Smith, waiting for directions. “First you will jog around the field nine times, and on the tenth time, I want you to sprint as fast as you can. If I see that anyone is jogging on the last lap, all of you will do the whole thing over until everyone does it right. Got it?” he boomed. “Yes, sir,” everyone replied back.
Matt just stood there, as all the juniors and seniors trying out for the team smirked at him and called him names as they past him halfway through the first lap. There must have been at least twenty five people trying out, Matt thought to himself. “Hey, you!” Coach Smith yelled. “Me?” Matt shouted back, looking confused. “Yes, of course you,” Coach Smith replied. “Come over here,” he commanded.
Matt quickly ran over to Coach Smith, hoping that he wasn’t in trouble. “Are you here to try out for ma team boy?” Coach Smith asked, glaring at Matt with his bright green eyes. “Ye... Ye… Yes sir,” Matt stuttered. “Ya know, I don’t like when people show up late for tryouts,” Coach Smith said. “So tell me boy, why are ya late for tryouts? Especially ma tryouts?” Coach Smith asked. “I’m sorry,” Matt apologized. “I forgot all my soccer stuff at home, so I had to run down to MC Sports real quick and grab all new cleats, socks, and shin guards. “I see,” Coach Smith understood. “Say, what’s your name, son?” Coach Smith asked. “Matt, Matt Stanzi sir,” he replied.
“Well Matt, it’s a pleasure to meet ya,” Coach Smith said. Matt stood there puzzled. “How come you all of a sudden seem so excited that I’m here?” Matt asked. “Well, it’s been twenty years since the last time this school has had a freshman like you tryout for the varsity team in any sport here at Windsor High,” Coach Smith commented. “But how did you know I was a freshman?” Matt asked. “Because, it says right here on the list of everyone trying out for the team. It lists the name, and the year of high school each student is in. And you’re the only freshman on here,” he answered. “Oh,” Matt replied. “Why don’t ya go ahead and catch up to everyone else so you can warm up?” Coach Smith insisted.
Matt quickly opened up the large plastic bag that held his shin guards, socks, cleats, and Gatorade he bought from MC Sports. He then slipped on all his stuff, tied his cleats, and started jogging around the field like everyone else, even though they were already halfway done. “This is going to be a piece of cake,” Matt murmured to himself.
After the eighth lap, Matt felt winded and out of shape. He was the only one still running, because everyone else had already finished. “I’m too tired to continue,” Matt muttered to himself, gasping for air. Everyone, including Coach Smith, just stood there waiting for him to finish. Not wanting to do it again, Matt sprinted as fast as he could, as if his life depended on it. Finally, when he reached the last turn, he could see how stunned everyone was to see how fast he could sprint. Even Coach Smith was impressed. Once Matt and everyone else caught their breath, Coach Smith let everyone get a quick drink before they started the next part of tryouts. Matt slowly walked over to his bag, tired and exhausted, picked up the Gatorade he bought from the store, and began to drink it.
Nothing felt any better right now than that ice cold Gatorade running down the back of his throat, he thought to himself. “Break’s over!” Coach Smith yelled. Everybody put down their drinks and jogged over to Coach Smith. “Now gentlemen, since you’re all warmed up, today’s tryouts will focus mainly on speed, strength, and handling. First, we’ll start off with strength,” he instructed.
“As you can see, I set up four ladders, and three sets of cones!” he yelled, even though they were right in front of him. By the time they were done doing just squats for about a half hour, Matt and everyone else were walking like penguins. When it came time to work on speed, and ball handling, Matt and everyone else could barely run. Matt could see a big smile on Coach Smith’s face; he looked as though he might burst out laughing at any second.
Finally, Coach Smith blew his whistle and told everyone to gather around. “Alright everyone, that was one of the best tryouts I’ve seen in years,” he complimented. Matt felt really confident that he might just make the cut this year, because when it came to speed, he beat almost everybody in sprints, except for Johnny Moore, who was one of the strongest and fastest guys in the school.
“If you receive a call in the next twenty four hours from myself, or Mr. Steve, it means you’ve made the team this year. And if you don’t receive a call from either one of us, then unfortunately you didn’t make the team,” Coach Smith informed. Mr. Steve was the athletic director here at Windsor High; he coordinated all the JV, and Varsity schedules for the upcoming seasons in all sports.
While Matt and his family were eating dinner that night, the phone rang. Matt jumped out of his chair like someone had just put a fake mouse on his back, and he was trying to get it off. He picked up the phone. “Hello?” he said anxiously. “Hi, is this Matt?” the man asked. “Yes,” Matt replied. “This is Coach Smith, I just called to tell you that you made the team this year,” he said.
Matt just stood there, not knowing what to say next. “Th... Th... Thank you,” he stuttered. “Well, I’ve got a few more people to call, so I better get going,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to have you on the team,” he commented. I’ll see ya at practice on Monday?” he asked. “Yes sir,” Matt replied. “Great,” Coach Smith replied back. Matt hung up the phone.
“Who was that, honey?” his mom asked. “That was Coach Smith,” he answered. “What did he want?” she asked. “He called to tell me that I made the team!” he couldn’t help shouting with excitement. “Congratulations,” his father said with excitement. “May I be excused?” Matt asked. “Sure honey,” his mother replied. Matt ran upstairs to his room, so he could call Billy and tell him the big news. “Hello,” Billy said. “Hey, it’s Matt,” he told Billy. “What’s up?” Billy asked. “How were tryouts this afternoon?” he wondered. “They were great,” he replied. “So, did you make the team?” Billy asked. “I sure did,” Matt said excitingly, trying to hold it in. “That’s awesome,” Billy replied enthusiastically. “When do you start practice?” he asked eagerly. “Monday,” Matt answered. “That’s awesome,” Billy said. “Well, I gotta get going,” Billy said, sounding disappointed. “I’m just about to eat dinner,” he informed. “Alright, I’ll see ya Monday,” Matt replied. “See ya,” Billy replied back.
Matt hung up the phone, and went to take a nice hot shower after his long and exhausting day. Once he got out of the shower, he put on his pajamas, brushed his teeth, and kissed his parents and his little sister Mary goodnight.
The weekend seemed to drag on forever; Matt couldn’t wait for practice to start. Finally, it was Monday, and today was the first day of practice. When Matt arrived at practice, he was shocked to find that almost ten people were cut from the team at tryouts. When Coach Smith arrived about five minutes later, he had everyone form a straight line side by side, so he could explain what they should expect this season during practice. “This is not going to be a walk in the park, gentlemen,” he assured. “There will be times when you are gonna want to quit,” he explained. “But, once it’s over, once we bring home that state trophy, it will have all paid off,” he explained.
Once Coach was done explaining everything, he handed us our schedules. “I don’t get why he is working us so hard when all he cares about is the postseason,” Matt thought to himself. He also explained that the teams they play in the regular season were fairly easy teams, and that they could win some of the games easily 5-0. “It’s the postseason that counts,” he says.
Coach Smith was right; they won their first game 4-0 against the Salem Seahawks. Since this was one of the easiest games on the schedule, Coach Smith was still trying to figure out where everyone would play. They played a total of ten games in a season, and they only played in fall. “That’s probably why he really wants good players for the postseason, because if they didn’t win the state championship this year, they would have to wait a full year to try again. With Matt’s speed, Coach decided to put him at center back with Johnny Moore. He knew with those two in defense no one would beat them. Johnny was one of the broadest and fastest guys in the school. He was almost like a small truck.
The rest of the season they killed every team they played. Their biggest win was against their rival, the local team the Springfield Superstars, and they won 8-0. All their other games they won three or four to zero, except for their last two. They just barely slid past the Beaverton Bears 2-1. And they barely beat the Eugene Eagles 1-0; Matt scored the winning goal off a late corner.
The postseason was finally here, and everyone was pumped. Matt’s team, the Windsor Wildebeests, had just finished first in Districts, and was ready to move on to regionals. In the regional quarter-final they played against the Hillsboro Hawks.
At the end of first half, the score was 1-0 Wildebeests; they scored off a breakaway from their biggest man, Johnny Moore. The second half went almost the same as the first half, except for the fact that the Hawks pulled through and scored off a free kick just outside the box. Everyone was shocked, that the score was now tied. With less than a minute to go, Johnny lobbed the ball from the center of the field, to David Wilbur, the Beest’s center forward.
David dribbled passed the last defender, the goalie charged him, and so David just chipped the ball over the goalie’s head and watched the ball hit the back of the net. Everyone piled on top of David and celebrated until everybody was all celebrated out. That was it: David’s winning goal put the Windsor Wildebeests in the regional semifinal.
Despite almost losing the first game of the tournament, that win fired up the whole team, including Coach Smith, which led the Windsor Wildebeests to plow through the regional semifinal and final without any problems. They crushed the Gresham Grizzlies 3-0 in the semifinal, and steamrolled the Albany Aztecs 4-0 in the final.
The state quarterfinal was against the Astoria Avalanche. “Now I see why Billy said I should probably hit the gym before the season starts; these guys were huge,” Matt muttered to himself. The Avalanche were the runners up in the final last year. About half way through the first half, Johnny slide-tackled a kid from behind inside the box. It was a penalty kick. A penalty kick is when the player on the opposing team has it in your box, and you commit a foul on them, or another player. They then get a free shot on the goal with no one else around.
A player on the Avalanche put the ball on the little white circle in the center of the box, and waited for the ref to blow his whistle. TWEET! The ref blew his whistle. The Avalanche player ran towards the ball as fast as he could. The second he kicked the ball, everyone, even the parents on both teams, knew that it was a goal. WHAAM! The ball struck the back of the net like lighting, that’s how fast it was. The ref blew his whistle, signaling it was a goal. Nothing much happened the rest of the first half.
The Wildebeests went into halftime trailing the Avalanche 1-0. During halftime, Coach Smith told them to keep our heads in the game, and everything will be alright. “And guys, try not to panic, take your time,” he said. Everyone felt better going into the second half.
TWEET! The ref blew his whistle, signaling the start of the second half. About five minute into the second half, the Wildebeests got a corner. “Matt, take it!” Coach Smith boomed from across the field. Matt gave him a thumbs up. Matt lifted his arm, kicked the ball, and the ball went right to Jacob Den, the Wildebeest’s left forward on the far post. Jacob had to jump for it, so he leapt up into the air; he hit the ball perfectly with his head and put the ball into the top corner of the net. The score was all tied up now; everyone cheered.
With thirty seconds left, The Avalanche got a breakaway with only one man to beat, and that man was Matt. Matt shuffled around a little bit, trying to get his opponent to mess up. It wasn’t working. So Matt took a quick step forward, like he was about to charge his opponent. The other player bought it, too. He tried to juke around Matt, but Matt wouldn’t budge. Matt stuck his foot out, and got all ball, with fifteen seconds left in the game. Everyone cheered. Matt passed it up to Johnny at mid-field, and Johnny then passed it to David, who did a give and go with Jacob in the box. Jacob got the ball, and the goalie charged him.
But instead of chipping him, Johnny ran right along with Jacob. With nobody on Johnny, Jacob tapped the ball to Johnny’s feet, who then just tapped the ball in the back of the net as time expired. Everyone cheered; they all dog-piled Johnny. Even Coach Smith joined in, as well. After the game, they all went back to their hotel and had a big pool party.
The next day was the state semifinals against the Portland Pirates. This is as far as The Wildebeests have ever made it in soccer for the past three years in a row. Except this is the first time the Portland Pirates have ever made it this far, and the Wildebeests took full advantage of that.
By halftime, Windsor was up 4-0. But the Pirates didn’t give up there. With five minutes to go, the score was 4-3, still in favor of the Wildebeests.
Matt and the whole team were feeling nervous, so for those last five minutes, they just played keep away until the sound of the buzzer went off. No one could believe it. The Windsor Wildebeests were in the 2011 state final. Matt couldn’t believe he was in the state final, as a freshman. Instead of throwing an enormous party when they got back to their hotel, Coach Smith wanted to talk to the whole team about tomorrow’s game.
“Tomorrow is going to be one of the biggest games of our lives. And I know I wanted to win the state championship, but I want you guys to know that, win or lose tomorrow, you guys will forever be champions,” he said.
Everybody clapped and put their hands in the middle. “On three we yell Wildebeests!” Johnny shouted. “One, two, and three WILDEBEESTS!” everyone shouted. Everyone split and went back to their rooms to get a good night’s rest for tomorrow.
“I can’t believe I’m here in the state championships,” Matt thought to himself. Everyone was huddled around Coach Smith getting ready for the game. The ref blew his whistle, signaling that it was time for the game to begin. Before everyone took the field, “Remember, Champions,” Coach Smith said. “Real quick, on three,” he whispered. “One, two, and three, WILDEBEESTS!” Everyone shouted as loud as they could. They were playing the Medford Mayhem; they won three consecutive state championships, now going for their fourth. Everyone thought that some of them looked like they could be in their first or second year of college, and Matt was terrified.
“I can’t defend against them, Coach, they’ll kill me!” Matt cried. “Then just draw the foul, it’ll be our ball.” He told Matt. “Okay, whatever you say Coach,” Matt replied nervously.
The first half was pretty boring, except for a few shots on goal here and there from both sides. The Mayhem’s defense was phenomenal, but the Wildebeests were just as good. By the way these two teams were defending, no one had a clue if even overtime would settle this one. The only way this game might end, would be in a penalty shoot out. At halftime, Coach Smith told everybody that he wanted to switch formations; he wanted them to play an all defensive game.
“So when the other team got the ball, everyone on offense, would drop back and help the defense. Hopefully that would lead to a counter play,” he said. And that’s exactly what they did. Because during the second half, the Mayhem never even came close to scoring. Johnny almost scored off the counter play, but hit the post.
With about fifty seconds left on the clock, Matt deflected a shot, out for a corner. Everyone cheered, because all they had to do was defend against this corner. The ball was kicked, and a player on the other team leapt into the air, hit the ball with is head, and the ball smacked the back of the net just as time expired. Everyone on the opposing team jumped all over him and celebrated, for what seemed like forever to the Wildebeests. That was it; they had just lost the 2011 state final 1-0 against the defending champs the Medford Mayhem. Matt and everyone else slowly walked off the field, looking as if the world just ended.
Both teams lined up on both sides of the field, and shook each other’s hands. Coach Smith quickly told them how proud he was of them, and how he could never ask for a better team.
The whole team smiled and walked off the field with their heads held high, not caring that they just lost the state championship, but because they made it farther than they ever had in school history. And that was a win in their book.
Everyone hopped in their cars and drove off into the sunset back home keeping their heads held high, whether they had that state trophy or not, because inside, they knew they were already state champions.