Daily Pilot Cup: Katie's playing again

Daily Pilot

COSTA MESA — At this time last year, Harbor View played for Katie.

Now Katie McCullough is the one making the plays for the Vikings in the Daily Pilot Cup.

The Harbor View girls' fifth- and sixth-grade silver division team topped Newport Heights, 3-1, in its first game of the tournament Wednesday at the Costa Mesa Farm Sports Complex.

McCullough was in on a lot of the action for Harbor View. The fifth grader had an assist and multiple long runs up the field from her right forward spot. As she did so, she passed her dad, Pat, and mom, Susan, who began to tear up at times.

Katie McCullough was supposed to play with the Harbor View girls' third- and fourth-grade team last year. She began practicing with the team until one day, she started feeling sick at school and vomited.

Turned out, Katie McCullough had a brain tumor and had to spend three weeks in Children's Hospital of Orange County.

"By the time Pilot Cup came around, she was at CHOC recovering from brain surgery," Coach Laura Gelgand said. "All her teammates were so concerned for her, that they wrote 'Katie' on the side of their shirts and they dedicated their play at the Cup to Katie.

"It was so meaningful. We did not have a strong team. We somehow got entered into the gold division and they were absolutely killed, but it didn't even matter to these girls. They realized how lucky they were to be healthy, and they were playing for Katie. They had the best time. You would never know that they were not first place."

Fourth graders on that team, including Isabella Matthews, Brooke Gelgand, Fiona Palitz, Bianca Coon, Natalie Batista and Camile El Bayar, are now fifth graders on this team. And they are so thankful to be rejoined by McCullough, who is doing so much better after physical therapy, although Susan McCullough said her daughter still needs an MRI twice a year.

"She's gone through two brain surgeries and she's never complained," Susan McCullough said. "She's always positive. She's got a good spirit ... And we've gotten a lot of love and support from Harbor View. The outpouring was amazing."

Wednesday's game was Katie McCullough's first game back, but you'd never know it. She helped spearhead a dangerous offensive attack for Harbor View, which did fall behind midway through the first half when Newport Heights' Mariana Debarro broke through to score.

Two minutes later, though, Harbor View's Annika Rosten found the back of the net, and the score stayed tied going into halftime.

Rosten is one of several players on Harbor View for whom soccer isn't their first sport. She and El Bayar are gymnasts, and goalie Mackensie Kohl is usually a softball pitcher.

"In our school newspaper, they had sign-ups for [the Daily Pilot Cup]," Kohl said. "I played soccer for two years when I was 4 and 5, and I wanted to try it [again]."

Kayden Fogerty scored twice in the second half for Harbor View, which also received solid play from its defensive leader, Samantha Flores.

Olivia Blanda, Ashley Obuljen and Lani Kerrigan stood out for Newport Heights.

Harbor View will play its next game at the Daily Pilot Cup at 5:45 p.m. Friday at Davis, against California. When the Vikings do, they will be lucky to have Katie McCullough again, and they know it.

"She's a good player," Brooke Gelgand said. "It's really good to have her back on the team. We missed her."

Mom was so proud, as well.

"Running on a field, for us, is just amazing," Susan McCullough said. "She's happier than ever."

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