Ron Schoenbaum, a Newport Coast Elementary head coach at the Daily Pilot Cup, had enough fourth-graders for gold and silver division teams, so he and coach Ken Recker chose a bronze team of exclusively second- and third-graders.
An all-third-grade team could be risky, pitted against teams mixed with older girls, but the coaches hoped for a few wins by what appeared to be a talented group. That risky choice led to a record-breaking championship. The Newport Coast girls' team didn't allow a goal, outscoring opponents, 23-0, and went 5-0 to win the bronze Cup. No other team in this 2012 cup shut out all of its opponents.
"When we entered the tournament, I was a bit concerned that we didn't have a bunch of club players, and outside of goal, I questioned how we'd stack up on defense," Recker said. "The parents and I were astonished at the dominant performance on both offense and defense."
The first pool-play game against Harbor Day went smoothly with the NC girls scoring five times early, moving the team to focus on slower, technical play. A pool-play game against Wilson went the same with five unanswered goals in the first half and only one shot on goal to defend. Those two pool-play games were the only ones that included Alexandra Antoyan and second-grader Anika Ewert, who both delivered exceptional offensive games. The remainder of the games were played with only nine girls and no substitutes.
"Since each girl had to play each entire game, we made sure they played the positions they wanted," Recker said. "The girls were so excited about the opportunity to play offense, score and even defend goal for the first time."
Saturday's quarterfinal against wild-card Newport Heights and the semifinal against Victoria were repeats of pool-play games with another 10 goals and no points against.
Recker started Ashley Zieper, Emily Recker, and Ryann McTague as forwards, who delivered a systematic, four-game barrage of passing and scoring. Zeiper's deft ball-handling belied her years and Emily Recker owned the middle with aggressive drives through each game. Two goals came from both Alix Wilcoxson and Madison Cooper, who doubled as goalie. Brittany Murphy and Tessa Rials skillfully played virtually all field positions including keeper.
The defense was formidable, as the first four games brought an astonishingly-low eight shots on goal. Maddie Rosen dominated center midfield, with tireless performance throughout the series. Though focused on stopper, she delivered countless drives supporting Zieper, Recker, Rials and McTague. Nikki Nasseri owned the left defense, sharing the most defensive contributions with Rials, Wilcoxson, Cooper and Murphy.
Sunday afternoon's exciting final match pitted NC against Davis, who had just triumphed over a dangerous Pomona team in PKs earlier in the day. But NC delivered a similar performance to the past four games, controlling the ball throughout; delivering two unanswered goals against Davis to win the trophy and complete a perfect series.
"I am so proud of this team," Coach Recker said. "The girls were all new to Pilot Cup and could have been overwhelmed. On the contrary, each young athlete played with confidence, determination, and passion."
The team is enjoying a week of celebration, as the girls have been wearing their Newport Coast Daily Pilot Cup T-Shirts to school. True to their championship attitude, they're already planning for Pilot Cup 2013, and what they hope to be a repeat performance in the gold division. They should have a shot; every team member will still qualify for the third- and fourth-grade team next year.
— Reader submission