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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

August 19, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Seattle’s Best: Over-55 women’s soccer team brings home gold

By Teresa Wagner

Teresa Wagner played for Seattle’s Best over-55 women’s soccer team, which won a gold medal at the World Masters Games in Turin, Italy, earlier this month. Wagner, who lives in Colorado, played soccer in Seattle for 25 years with members of Seattle’s Best, and joined the team in its quest for gold. This is her account of that tournament. Read her and a teammate’s earlier Take 2 post before the tournament.

Debra Loft of Seattle's Best controls the ball during the World Master's Games in Turin.  Photo courtesy of Ross Hunter

Deb Loft of Seattle’s Best, who had two assists in the title game, controls the ball during the World Master’s Games.
Photo courtesy of Ross Hunter

Most coaches will huddle their team together before a game to extol team members to “go out there and win!” Our coaches for the Seattle’s Best over-55 women’s soccer team, Janet and Pat Charnley, had a different approach before each game we played in the World Master’s Games in Torino, Italy.

Their orders were simple: “Play our game.”

We are proud to say that Seattle’s Best soccer brought home a gold medal and are world champions. And we did it by playing our game: by overcoming adversity, through hard, purposeful work and practice, listening to our coaches, positive talk on and off the field, crisp, exact passing, and most of all, with an unwavering trust in each other.

We knew that each player had the capability for great things on and off the field. Achieving a goal, to be the best in the world, can be very satisfying. But getting the gold medal with friends, with people you trust with your dreams – now that is a beautiful achievement!

For the World Masters Games, an 11-day, 29-sport extravaganza for athletes 30 and older, we played a grueling seven-game soccer tournament Aug. 2-11. In hot, humid conditions, we overcame a slow start in our first game and wound up beating a very tough team from Hawaii 3-0 in our final game. The shutout was an awesome exclamation point for a Seattle’s Best team that only allowed one goal the entire tournament.

The path leading to Torino was not easy. Many of our players suffered injuries and endured painful rehab to get fit for the tournament. Our goalkeeper, Linda Kautz, suffered a broken hand one month before our departure.  Peggy Hoffer‘s husband, Pat, died two months before our games, an emotional weight that would stay with us throughout our time in Italy. We had Pat’s name on our jersey in tribute to his support of our dreams and his love of soccer.

Sue Potter of Seattle's Best scored in the championship game as her team won a gold medal.  Photo courtesy of Ross Hunter

Sue Potter of Seattle’s Best, shown battling for a ball, helped her team win a gold medal by scoring two goals in the final.
Photo courtesy of Ross Hunter

Logistical nightmares followed us to Italy. Several of us, including both coaches, lost luggage for five days. Planes were diverted and late, with one person arriving the day of our first game. But that only seemed to bond us more closely. We felt like we were becoming sisters, sharing rooms, living and eating together. As with most sisters, feelings got hurt, roommate situations needed to be resolved, and the excitement to eat everything in sight was overpowering at times. Oh, the gelato! The cappuccinos! The pizza and pasta, the linguine with clams! The lure of incredible wines and chocolate, too.

But through it all, Seattle’s Best persevered. We got up every morning, ate together, negotiated the Torino bus system, and made our way to our games with temperatures in the mid to upper 90s, with 75 percent humidity. And it didn’t cool down at night time, either. After our games, we would wash our soccer uniforms in bathtubs, hang our clothes out the window to dry, and then do it all over again the next day.

Our soccer venues were by no means glorious. The bathroom was a hole in the floor, but the stadium staff, game officials and directors were all incredibly likable and efficient. Our games were well run. Officials were surprised at how well we played and compared our forwards to those on their beloved Torino FC soccer team. The family that ran the concessions at the stadium provided all the athletes with free snacks, beer and frosted cappuccinos after our games. The final two games were at an upgraded venue, with a private locker room for pregame talks and shady stands for our fans.

Opening Ceremonies, The Parade of Athletes

On Saturday, Aug. 3, Torino had a huge party to welcome all of the athletes. All 6,500 athletes staged themselves on the main street at the east end of town. True to Italian flexible scheduling, we were told to be there at 4 p.m. but we didn’t start marching until 8.

The extra time gave us a chance to meet other athletes from around the world. We met basketball players from Latvia, volleyball athletes from Brazil, table-tennis players from China, and soccer players from Australia, Canada and Scotland.  We drank beer or wine, which loosened everyone up. The Brazilians had drums and played national songs. The Scots brought a bagpipe and played for the crowds. There was dancing and singing all over the staging area. As Seattle’s Best marched up the street to a beautiful piazza (square) on the west end of town, we felt like superstars, or warriors going off to battle.

We marched through town, proudly waving little American flags. All of Torino seemed to be there clapping for us. It was thrilling to reach out and shake hands, slap high-fives with young kids, and just yell out “Graci, Torino!” (thank you, Torino).” We walked about one mile to the piazza, where we heard welcoming speeches by city dignitaries and saw the Italian flag being raised. Hey, don’t call us “grannies”, we are athletes, proud and admired!

“Our Game”

One of our only complaints was that more countries didn’t field teams in our age group. We believe it underscores that too few countries gave women the opportunity to play soccer in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We count ourselves as lucky! As it turned out, we should have labeled our group the Pacific Rim Competition because we ended up playing teams from California, Oregon and Hawaii.

After Seattle’s Best won the semifinals against a very tough California team on Aug. 9, we were ready for the final game the next day. We would face our toughest opponent, Hawaii. When we played this team earlier in the tournament, we tied, 0-0. This time, we were ready with “our game”.

Wearing our red jerseys with an American flag on one shoulder and Pat’s name on the other, we came out strong, fast and decisive. We controlled the ball in the middle of the field and we did not panic in our defensive third. We scored in the first five minutes, with a wonderful pass from Deb Loft, a forward, to Sue Potter, our center midfielder. Sue scored with a very sure kick.

We didn’t let up and continued to dominate the midfield. After scoring our second goal off another beautiful pass from Deb, our other forward, Diane Hutchins, had to come out after being pushed down by a Hawaii defender twice her size. Turned out, Diane’s wrist was broken, but she still played in the second half. Other injured players put their pain aside. Our keeper, Linda Kautz, played outstanding, even though she was recovering from a broken hand. Sue Boettcher, had some playing time, even though she was limping in pain. I played even though I was held together with tape, bandages and wraps. Chris Hass got hurt after our third game and was unable to play in the final, but she was one of the strong defensive players who got us there.

Deb scored one more time, receiving a beautiful pass from the back of the defense, and sealed the deal against Hawaii in the second half. With time running out, we continued to batter Hawaii with shots on goal. Our solid defense allowed Hawaii only a few shots on goal and two corner kicks. Our defense destroyed any scoring opportunities for Hawaii.

The whistle blew and the game ended. Some of us cried. Some of us cheered and yelled. We all hugged and laughed. Then the public-address system played Queen’s “We are the Champions.”

All our dreams came true! Gold medals were hung around our necks. We waved to our husbands, daughters and friends who were supporting us in the stands, and we thought of loved ones back home who supported us throughout our soccer careers spanning more than 25 years.

This win was for our families, our coaches, for Seattle. And for Seattle’s Best, for us, for sisters!

The next World Masters Games will be in New Zealand in 2017. You can bet Seattle’s Best will be there to defend our title.

And, once again, we’ll be playing “our game.”

Seattle's Best women's 55-and-over soccer team won a gold medal at the World Master's Games in Turin, Italy.

Seattle’s Best 55-and-over women’s soccer team won a gold medal at the World Master’s Games in Turin. Photo courtesy of Ross Hunter

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

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