By Natalie Weidenbach
Natalie Weidenbach, 14, lives in Snoqualmie Valley with her family and will be a ninth-grader at Mount Si High School. She loves to write, play basketball and play soccer, and has been playing the latter sport since she was 5 years old. Her Eastside FC 98 Red soccer team went undefeated in all four games in Overland Park, Kan., and won the Under-14 Girls National Championship on July 27 by beating YMS Xplosion 98 (Penn.) 2-1 in the final.
I watched as the referee brought the whistle to his lips. I knew this was it.
This was the whistle that would end the match. This would be sound that named us champions
Only when I heard that victory signal did I let myself breathe again. It was only a small breath, because that’s when I, and the rest of my team, screamed. We screamed so loud that we drowned out the whistle. We screamed so loud that our throats hurt.
Then we started to jump, dance, and scream some more, as we celebrated this memorable day with each other.
Winning the U.S. Youth Soccer National Under-14 title required a tremendous amount of preparation. But it wasn’t just in the days, weeks or even months leading up to nationals that we started to prepare. This journey began five years ago, when my team, Eastside FC G98 Red, joined together and formed a bond. As we developed, we became a family.
What I think separates us from other teams is our ability to stay loose yet focused when we need to, and our foundation of support and love for each other. Earlier this year, we said farewell to our beloved coach, Michelle French, and welcomed our new coach, Tom Bialek, to the family.
Fast forward to March, and there we are, in the state championship game, tied and playing for the title in penalty kicks. We lost.
But that didn’t end our journey. Washington state was awarded the Region IV wildcard this year, and so we had the opportunity to go to regionals in Oahu, Hawaii.
We got a second chance, and we made the most of it. We were prepared. To be successful, it’s not just the training you do with each other, it’s also about the individual work you put in. When you’re on the field, your teammates will always be there to cover you, but the question is, will you be there to cover yourself.
So I worked. Every day leading up to our departure, I worked. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I wanted to be able to chase down that ball when someone needed help. I wanted to be able to jump up for that header, muscle the opponent out of my path. Each one us knew the time we had to put in, and we were all willing to work that hard.
All our effort paid off. Under the kind of sun you can only get close to the equator, we finished regionals with a 3-0 victory in the championship. At the end of the game, I wasn’t even aware of the dripping sweat as I hugged each of my teammates. I’ll never forget the feeling at the end of that game, a feeling of amazement as well as accomplishment. My coach told each one of us to cherish that feeling, and to remember it, because knowing how it to be champions would give us the determination to feel that way again.
We were one team picked out of thousands to represent our club, state, and region in the most prestigious youth soccer tournament in the country. We arrived in Kansas, where the national championships were held, with a purpose. Our mindset: We made it this far for a reason. There is no way we should stop now. We were relentless and finished bracket play with two wins and a tie, securing our spot in the final.
Then came the day of the national championship. All day, we waited. Adrenaline was pumping, energy was pent up, and before we knew it, it was game time. We walked out onto that field ready to be ruthless, aggressive, and strong. All of us realized this was it. There wasn’t another tournament after this. So we left it all on the field.
As the final minutes of the game came to a close, I remembered something I once heard: “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then, and only then, will you be successful.”
So I breathed hard and I used all that I had left to give.
Finally, the referee blew his whistle, and there is only one word I can use to describe the feeling of that moment: Euphoric.
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