If you haven’t been to a girl’s high school soccer game lately you might be surprised at the quality of play. Last weekend was the Southern California DII Championship game which pitted the #1 seed Harvard-Westlake against #2 La Jolla. I’ve been following the HW team through their entire pre-season, league and post-season play. Yeah – it seems excessive but it’s my daughter’s team and I’m the consummate soccer mom.
High school athletics are a special breed of competition. It’s as much about the game as it is about the school, class pride, and friendships. It’s about wearing the team uniform to school on game days and passing the torch of responsibility from one senior class to the next.
Most of the girls on the HW team have played since they were young kids, the majority play at an elite club level during the off-season, a couple are even ODP players so there’s no shortage of team experience. But playing for their school is a wholly different experience.
Most athletes don’t compete because it’s fun (though winning certainly is). They don’t love the suicide sprints, the getting up early for games, the staying late to finish practice. The blood and sweat from training, the constantly aching, tired muscles aren’t enjoyable nor are the extra laps the coach makes them run. But for those who see it through, there is great satisfaction in the way they play and the work they do. They learn to never back down. Never let up. And to have each other’s backs.
Interscholastic rules prevent high school and club seasons from overlapping so the girls can focus on one team at a time (as well as one coach). The club vs. high school coach debate is the subject of an entirely different post. While club teams practice 2-3 days a week, the varsity girls get together and practice daily after school. During the off season they’re encouraged to work together on strength and conditioning. The high school team shares a bus to and from games creating additional bonding time.
But the biggest difference between high school and club soccer is probably the level of support the girls get during their games. Club and tournament season usually involves a lot of travel. Fields may be hours from home. Lots of time it’s a weekend in a hotel room away from friends and in some cases boyfriends. Spectators usually include parents and the odd sibling or grandparent. The girls make a commitment to the team often at the expense of social time.
At high school games the bleachers are filled with classmates and teachers. They may be doing a reading assignment or grading papers while watching the game but they’re showing support. They’re cheering and applauding great plays. Games against long-time rivals or championship games draw even bigger crowds. At HW a group of red-clad Fanatics root loudly. Signs and handmade posters promote favorite players. Alums and parents of alum often show up.
The games leading up to the recent state championship grew larger and larger with each round. There were spirit days at school. Homemade cookies passed around to students. Balloons. Bouquets of flowers. And a real sense of pride.
When Harvard-Westlake won the state championship last Saturday it was a moment each and every girl will remember for the rest of their lives. Sure, they’ve won other tournaments with other teams. A lot of these girls have rooms filled with trophies and medals. But this moment, with this group of girls, at this school, was a moment they’d worked for and dreamt about all season long. And our side of the stadium couldn’t have been filled with more appreciative fans – families, friends, classmates, administrators, alumni, former coaches and teammates – who will also remember the moment forever.
Great job girls.
Here’s a highlight reel of the game – HW is in white. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, go to 5:14 to see co-captain Maddie Lenard’s beautiful, game-winning goal.