COSTA MESA — Sami Nowak just wanted to make a difference Sunday afternoon in the Daily Pilot Cup girls' fifth- and sixth-grade gold division championship match.
The Kaiser Elementary sixth-grader wasn't doing that as goalie. Nowak only touched the ball twice in the first half, as Kaiser dominated possession against Andersen but failed to finish off its chances.
As Nowak came off the field, she took off her gloves. The message sent to Kaiser Coaches John Fay and Jayme Amirie was clear.
"I played goalie a bunch this whole tournament," Nowak said. "I only got to come out at the end for like three minutes in the other games. I just really wanted to play out. I said, 'If I come out, I promise I will try my hardest to score.'"
Nowak made good on her promise four minutes into the second half, scoring the game's first goal. Fifth-grader Trinity Rodman scored the second, a sliding shot from near the top of the box with five minutes left.
Kaiser was well on its way to blanking defending division champion Andersen, 2-0, at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
It was a sweet way to end the tournament for the Knights. Twelve of the 15 players, including Nowak and Rodman, were on the Kaiser team that two years ago won the third- and-fourth grade gold division title over Newport Heights. That list also included sixth-graders Chanse Hill, Grace Fay, Haley Bullard, Maddie Baldikowski, Olivia Belida, Payton Steiner, Sofia Velasquez, Tyesha Aguilar and Bella Fonk, as well as fifth-grader Jasmine Amirie.
"It's really awesome, knowing that you get to do it again," Nowak said. "And also, I really wanted to win because [it's my] last year at Kaiser."
The 2011 final ended in a shootout. Nowak was a hero in that game as well, as she scored in the shootout and stopped the last shot to win it. She actually used to attend Andersen, before arriving at Kaiser in third grade.
Sunday's championship match wasn't going to a shootout. Kaiser was good after Nowak and Rodman scored. The Knights also had a stifling defense, led by goalkeepers Nowak and Grace O'Neill as well as Fay, Amirie, Mackenzie Trigo and Calista Kerins. They allowed just one goal all tournament.
That goal was in Kaiser's pool-play first game, a 1-0 loss to Carden Hall, but the Knights rebounded from that. They blanked Mariners, 3-0, in a semifinal match earlier Sunday.
They stifled Andersen, which returned just two players from last year's title winners, sixth-graders Sophie Wallace and Reagan Pfeif. The Dolphins also had talented players like sixth-graders Natalie Young, Lauren Langdale and goalie Caitlin Purdy, as well as fifth-graders Kira Hoffman, Megan Chelf and Ashley Righeimer. Purdy (12 saves), Wallace, Langdale and Righeimer were anchors of the defense that held strong for much of the game, even with the ball constantly on the Andersen side of the field.
But offensively the Dolphins, coming off a 3-1 semifinal win over Carden Hall, found their chances at a minimum.
"They never managed to get any long balls down the field at all, and that's really what they were after," Jayme Amirie said. "That's how they beat Carden. We were fortunate enough to have all of the girls show up on their 'A' game today, too. That's a big deal. I don't know what they had for breakfast, but they all showed up on their 'A' game."
Rodman, Bullard and Baldikoski continuously put pressure on Andersen's defense. Rodman, the daughter of former NBA star Dennis Rodman, is a dynamic playmaker. She plays club soccer for the SC Blues; Rodman and Andersen's Chelf helped their under-11 team win the prestigious State Cup earlier this year.
Rodman, who had scraped her arm earlier in the second half, got it bandaged. She finally got her sliding goal. Baldikoski got the ball into the box, where it deflected off a defender and to Rodman's feet.
The sliding part wasn't a surprise for her.
"I didn't know it was going to go in," Rodman said. "When it did, I was excited. All of the goals I scored [in this tournament], I slid."
Andersen Coach Kathryn Hoffman said she was proud of her team for getting this far. The Dolphins had a very large 25-girl roster, since they didn't have gold and silver teams in the age division as they usually do, only gold.
"We didn't sign up for two teams," Hoffman said. "It's craziness, but that's what Pilot Cup's about, not cutting people ... It's really challenging, but they're great kids. My core [was] just really strong at holding it together."
Sixth-graders Kendall Kipp, Elizabeth McRae, Alexis Kelly, Katie Langley, Kate Jennings, Simone Oberreiter, Lia Darmer and Izzy Holton also aided Andersen, as did fifth-graders Brooke Healy, Maddy Pfeif, Janey Phillips, Kristen Fredricson, Anna Wilde, Ava Dillon, Erin Esnard, Nikola Schmitt and Abby Jensen.