The team was a diverse group from all parts of the Triangle. Some women had never kicked a soccer ball before; some were experienced players. But most were like me: athletic, but with rusty soccer skills and a few pounds past playing shape.
The games were rougher than I expected. The elbowing, tripping, the ball smacking into your body--all were a shock at first. Just a few months before, I'd thought a tough workout was carrying a full laundry basket up and down the stairs. Now I was sweating and swearing in an 80-minute test of endurance and strength.
It all came down to the last two minutes in the last game of the season--the tournament game against the Durham Parks and Recreation League's strongest team. We were up 1-0. We were dominating, passing the ball, controlling the midfield and shutting down their powerful strikers. Things were going well. I was in the goal, yelling encouragement and defensive instructions, all the while telling myself "Don't do something stupid to let them back in this game."
My moment of stupidity came. Their forward sent a high, lazy shot at me from 20 yards out near the center of the goal box. I thought this would be an easy save, but then I heard our sweeper yell, "Watch out for the bounce!" Instinct directed me to step toward the ball when I should have stepped back. The shot bounced high on the hard ground and my pathetic 2-inch vertical leap and outstretched fingertips couldn't stop it from drifting up and over into the goal.
I was devastated. My teammates did their best to console me and we moved on to overtime and then to penalty kicks. We lost 2-0 on penalty kicks. Our wonderful, magical, inaugural season was over.
Even though victory was never my top priority, I admit it would have felt a lot better to go out with a win. Still, I shook the hands of our opponents, told my Tri-Stars teammates, "Unlucky," with a shrug, and we all went out for a few beers
Later that night, I rested my tired 41-year-old body and reflected on the past months. I was glad I'd made the step back into team sports. It felt great to be active and competitive again. I relived the season, the fun times and the disappointing ones. And then I dreamt about getting back on the field in the fall to rejoin my soccer soulmates.