Hlas: An overmatched girls' soccer team from Waterloo plays on

Winning isn't always doing the most scoring

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CEDAR RAPIDS — It wasn’t a fair fight, was never going to be a fair fight, never is a fair fight.

“This is my third year as the coach of this team,” Waterloo East girls’ soccer coach Beth Huber said after her team’s 17-0 loss at Cedar Rapids Xavier Tuesday afternoon. “In three years, we haven’t scored a goal. We’ve only had two shots on goal all year.”

The Trojans play a Mississippi Valley Conference schedule every year and get soundly beaten every time out. They have allowed 135 goals over their 13 losses. They haven’t scored since the 2013 season, and Huber said she didn’t think they’ve won a game in the last 12 years.

Yet, the Trojans keep coming back for more, keep trying to improve in bits and pieces. If there isn’t something worthwhile and even noble in that, athletics are just calisthenics.

Xavier has nine girls’ soccer state-championship trophies. Its team has nothing but girls who look like and play like soccer players. They’re fit and quick and deft and instinctive.

East brought 12 players to Xavier, one more than the number needed to field a full team on the field. Sophomore Laura Rico played goalkeeper for the first time because she had a sprained ankle and couldn’t run. She couldn’t even kick the ball after making saves, but she did make several of those.

The only times East put the ball in Xavier’s half of the field was when it kicked from the center circle after Xavier’s goals.

Saints ninth-grader Quinn Hanigan scored 52 seconds into the game, and again less than a minute later. She had four goals and didn’t play all of the 40 minutes. High school games consist of two 40-minute halves, but are halted when a team leads by 10 goals at halftime or thereafter.

“Today we started our bench players, girls that really haven’t played a lot this year,” Xavier Coach Chris Higgins said. “Half of our goals today were someone’s first high school goal.”

The Saints weren’t trying to pile on. The openings were there, and the players played. They didn’t celebrate their scores, and the scoreboard-operator stopped changing the score once it reached 12-0.

“Games like that are never fun,” Higgins said. “You don’t want to kill the confidence of the other team.”

But that other team seems impossible to kill. East’s players were in good spirits before the game. Before the game, their coach spoke to them as if they were going out to try to win a state-title.

“We are leaving it on the field,” Huber told them. “You’ve got to push yourself. Focus! Push!”

Huber never stopped yelling instructions and encouragement to her team during the game.

“Here we go, girls! On your toes, girls! Shift, shift! Good, Laura! Focus, Cassidy! Here we go, black!”

When Xavier scored to make it 14-0 with 7:54 left, Huber shouted “Run wild for seven minutes!” Her team was gassed, and running wild was the last thing it could do. But it didn’t quit.

As East’s Emma McKinstry carried Rico off the field and to the team bus, Huber talked about the reality of her team’s situation.

“None of our girls have ever played on a select team,” she said. “Most haven’t been on any team since they were 9 or 10. So we’re working on basic skills, basic tactical decisions.

“We have small-sides games in practice, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, whatever we can do. But to practice at the speed other teams are coming at us with, it’s impossible. I try to use imagery. I ask the players to watch a professional soccer game on TV every weekend.

“I’m hoping next fall I can write a grant or somehow find some money to start soccer with third-grade-, fourth-grade girls so they can progress through high school and start to compete at a higher level.”

Huber, a preschool teacher at Waterloo’s Lincoln Elementary, knew nothing but winning as a college player.

She was a goalkeeper for four University of North Carolina national-championship women’s soccer teams, from 1981 through 1984. She’s coached in one form or another since college, and returns to her alma mater every summer to instruct at UNC’s girls’ summer camp.

But with her East team, she accepts limitations and tries to give her players a positive experience.

“They don’t yell at each other,” Huber said. “They enjoy each other. In practice I try to balance it between working them hard and also having fun.”

East is scheduled to play Cedar Rapids Prairie Thursday afternoon in Waterloo. The Trojans won’t win. But losers, they definitely are not.

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