In an adventure that is part “Home Alone,” part “Bend It Like Beckham,” the Notre Dame-Belmont girls’ soccer team pulled off a holiday triumph quite unlike any other.
The Tigers (7-2) traveled to Mesa, Arizona to run the table with five straight wins at the Arizona Soccer Showcase at Bell Bank Park, claiming the tourney championship Friday after 10 rounds of penalty kicks for a 2-2 (10-9 penalties) victory over Higley High School of Gilbert, Arizona.
It was a fittingly hectic finale to an excruciatingly hectic week, one that started with NDB departing Tuesday from San Francisco International Airport. Only, the Tigers did not depart by airplane. After the coaches, staff and 20 players had their original 10:30 a.m. flight with Southwest Airlines delayed several times, NDB changed its travel plans by booking a charter bus for a red-eye haul to the Grand Canyon State.
“It’s been the craziest week ever,” NDB head coach Paul McCallion said.
The charter bus ride wasn’t quite what Kate McCallister endured in hitching a ride with a truck full of stinky polka musicians to get home to Chicago in time for Christmas morning in “Home Alone,” but it was still met with its share of inconveniences. Ordinarily a drive that takes approximately 12 1/2 hours, holiday traffic turned the trip into a 17-hour drive, with the bus reaching its destination Wednesday morning at 7 a.m.
The Tigers were scheduled to open tournament play later that day at 2 p.m.
“We’d been up all night because it’s just so bumpy on the ride, and for three hours it was like bumper-to-bumper traffic … holiday traffic,” McCallion said. “It was just a lot longer than it was supposed to be.”
McCallion was able to push back the start time to 4 p.m. to give his players two extra hours to sleep. The rest seemed to do the Tigers good as, led by a hat trick senior forward Athena Carvallo, they opened the tournament with a 4-1 victory over Arizona Prep-Phoenix.
Carvallo went on to total six goals in the tournament, and senior Stella Affrunti scored three.
NDB advanced through pool play with wins of 4-1 over Eastmark-Mesa 4-1, and 1-0 over Sunrise Mountain-Peoria, Arizona, with clutch defensive play by central defenders Lola Sanguinetti and Ryan Leyte-Vidal to front goalkeeper Zeina Zumot’s shutout.
“They definitely played really well,” Zumot said of the defensive back row. “I didn’t receive the ball, so it didn’t get past the defensive line.”
Zumot, who played every minute of the tournament, would certainly get tested before the week was through. After Thursday’s semifinal — the Tigers earned a 4-1 win over Horizon-Scottsdale, Arizona — Friday’s championship match turned into an epic penalty kick shootout.
NDB led 2-0 in regulation before Higley rallied back in the second half, scoring the equalizer in the closing minutes on a shot that Zumot seemed to save, only to have the ball deflect off her hands and in to tie it 2-2.
Then came a shot-for-shot duel in penalties that saw NDB celebrate not once, but twice. The first celebration was during the seventh round of penalty kicks, as Zumot blocked Higley’s attempt, only to have her block nullified for being called off the goal-line.
“We all ran onto the field,” McCallion said. “We thought we’d won the game then, and everyone was going crazy.”
Zumot said she disagreed with the call.
“I don’t think I was off the line,” Zumot said. “I was just on my toes, and I was jumping … but I did the same thing for the rest (of the PKs).”
The duel continued into the 10th round, a career record for Zumot. Then, after NDB senior Kassie Hickson converted a PK in the top of the round, Zumot produced a save that allowed the Tigers to celebrate for real.
The artistry of PKs was apparent in Zumot’s description of the final block, as she was able to effectively read the shooter’s mannerisms.
“She looked to the other side a couple times, but her hips were closed,” Zumot said. “I just guessed and picked a side and luckily I saved it, and I was really excited about that.”
This was NDB’s third-ever trip to the Arizona Soccer Showcase, and the program’s second championship in the annual tournament.
“We definitely earned it in more ways than one,” McCallion said.