The 19th annual Daily Pilot Cup brought the community together once again for a week of goals and growth.
Young kids learned valuable lessons like teamwork and sportsmanship. Experience has its own benefits, as Newport Beach Mariners Elementary demonstrated in the top girls’ division of the youth soccer tournament on Sunday afternoon.
A very experienced Mariners squad defeated Huntington Beach Pegasus 2-0 in the final of the girls’ fifth- and sixth-grade Gold Division at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex.
“Three years ago, we had basically the same team, when it was nine-versus-nine,” Mariners coach Brett Hlista said, referencing the school’s championship in the third- and fourth-grade Gold Division in 2016. “You have less players, but those same 11 players from that year were on this team.”
They have grown in skill, in friendship, and in stature. The back line for Mariners in this tournament would hold a height advantage over most elementary school rosters.
Avery Wolfe, Amelia Garza and Katleine Leibe formed an impenetrable wall in front of goalkeeper Ellie Robinson, who did not concede a goal in the tournament.
“The entire tournament, I was just worried that a goal would get in, but that never happened because of my awesome defensive team,” Robinson said. “They stopped every single person. I was still worried, but I was a little less worried than I would have been.”
The teams reached the half in a scoreless tie. Mariners had lost left striker Reese Hlista to a lower-body injury before it found a way to get a ball into the net.
Mariners began sending shots high, and it led to loose balls near the goal mouth. Pegasus center back Kainani Bogart cleared one scoring chance away.
Soon after, Mariners earned a corner kick. Leibe took the set piece, with the ball deflecting off the hands of the Pegasus goalkeeper and landing at the feet of Riley McKibbin. She converted a tap-in goal to give Mariners the lead in the 42nd minute.
In the 50th minute, Leibe lined up another corner kick that found the right knee of Ally Thomas in front. Mariners doubled its lead on the play.
Wolfe surmised that her team created more set-piece opportunities by sending numbers forward.
“We saw that we could attack in numbers,” Wolfe said. “Once we attacked in numbers, we were stronger that way. We would outnumber them, and then we just got it in.
“I think the goalie was really good, but the one goal, it got in between her legs, and it’s like, ‘What are you going to do?’”
Pegasus looked dangerous in the last 10 minutes, with Piper Wilkison and Jocelyn Orellana teaming up for a number of shallow-cross opportunities.
Mariners advanced to the final with a 1-0 win over team-proclaimed rival Costa Mesa Kaiser. Peyton “Pey-Pey Bo-Bo” Bodas scored the goal.
“They had some highly-skilled players,” Pegasus coach Christine Bridges said of Mariners. “They were moving the ball really well, passing, and getting some great through balls. They are a team of athletes.
“Our girls battled and worked hard, and I think it was a very competitive match, and they got some great goals, so I’m proud of both teams.”
Daily Pilot Cup teams are often put together in a matter of weeks. How quickly the team bonded impressed Bridges.