The referee's whistle put an end to overtime, but the battle was not over yet. Suddenly, I became aware of the air around me, breath like smoke from a factory rising visibly into the dark air around me, pausing, hovering like a burden upon my shoulders. The bright lights above shine on me like a spotlight, drawing my eyes toward my long shadow in front of me like a pool in which I am about to drown. I stare down at my cleats, frost from the grass penetrating the leather, my toes crunched up, petrified for the task at hand. I struggle to slow down my breathing, juggling the ball to keep my toes warm and my mind focused. Meanwhile, I am conscious of every movement the goalie makes in her preparation for this final shot. She crouches down, the colors of her flamboyant shirt temporarily distract me. The keeper stretches out her hands, palms facing outward, knees bent, rising and falling, while staying balanced on her toes.
I had already decided to shoot to the left corner where I felt comfortable. Why would I change that tonight, in front of these screaming fans huddled in the bleachers, patiently awaiting the destiny of this game? If this shot goes in my team will become the state champions. If the ball goes wide it will be a long bus ride home.
I peer into the keeper's eyes, a deadstare, a stalemate in which neither side is willing to give. Her glassy eyes tell me there is no way she can stop me, no one can tonight. The whistle is blown, then hangs on the referee's chest, shaped like a noose which I would like to hang him with. He smirks as he points to the ball, rushing me along. The ball stands alone, eagerly awaiting my directions. I take a deep breath, eyes fixed to the ground, backstepping, focusing, confident of the outcome. I lean forward, step toward the mark, locking my ankle and connecting with the ball. The ball rises, racing to the left corner, then bounces on the grass below. The goalie pauses, dives to the left, hands outstretched, hoping to get a piece of the ball. The ball remains low and runs along the grass, sliding by the keeper and meeting the back of the net. The fans clear the bleachers and form a pig pile, cheering and chanting. l
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.