Kaiser back on top

COSTA MESA — It had been nine years since Kaiser had won a title at the Daily Pilot Cup.

That's a long time for one of the original schools in the tournament, now in its 12th year. And when Newport Heights scored early in Sunday afternoon's girls' third- and fourth-grade gold division title match, it started to look like the Knights might come up short once again.

Kaiser never panicked. It had the Trinity on its side.

Trinity Rodman scored in regulation and also had the first goal in the dramatic shootout that Kaiser won, 3-2, after the teams played to a 1-1 draw in regulation.

Chanse Hill and Sami Nowak also scored in the shootout for Kaiser. Nowak, the Knights' goalie, then blocked a final Newport Heights attempt to preserve the victory.

It wouldn't have been possible without the breathtaking goal midway through the first half by Rodman, the daughter of former NBA all-star Dennis Rodman. The five-time NBA champion known as "The Worm" wasn't at Farm Sports Complex field No. 3 to watch Trinity play; a Kaiser parent said Dennis Rodman, a former Newport Beach resident, no longer lives in Southern California. Trinity's mother, Michelle, watched the action Sunday.

Trinity's goal was definitely something to behold. She took the ball at midfield and weaved through at least four Newport Heights players. Newport Heights goalie Maddy Alaluf charged, but Rodman snuck the ball into the left corner.

It was a shot in the arm for Kaiser, which had fallen behind in the third minute when Newport Heights' Kelcy Sweeny found the back of the net. Kaiser Coach John Fay, whose team also came back in a semifinal victory over Mariners, said his girls weren't fazed. Rodman had several times where she stole the ball and ran nearly all the way up the field.

"That's why I put her at center mid," Fay said of Rodman, one of just two third-graders on the team. "I know that position gives her the space to go wherever she wants. It's just incredible to see her play. I think she's going to be somebody to watch in the future."

The opponents were familiar. Newport Heights co-coaches Kim Coyne and Tom Robinson have coached their daughters, Helen and Sara, with players from Kaiser on the same team. Kim Coyne said they've coached Rodman, Hill, Nowak and Grace Fay on an AYSO Region 97 select team.

"We've played that group up [at under-12s] all spring," Coyne said.

Neither team could go up in the game after Rodman tied the score. Kaiser's Maddie Baldikoski nearly gave her team the lead just before halftime, but the shot went off the post. This game would be decided in a shootout.

Rodman and Hill both made their shots to give Kaiser the early lead, while Newport Heights' first shot went off the bar and the second was blocked by Nowak. But Kaiser's third shot went over the goal, and Newport Heights' Alli Cunningham scored to bring her team within 2-1 in the shootout.

After Nowak and Newport Heights' Alison Corr traded goals, Kaiser was up, 3-2. Alaluf blocked Kaiser's next attempt, but then Nowak returned the favor to give Kaiser the dramatic victory.

Defenders Grace Fay, Sofia Velasquez and Jasmine Amirie — Kaiser's other third-grader — were stout throughout the game.

"I didn't really get nervous that much," said Nowak, who made six saves. "Grace, Sophia and Jasmine really kept it out a lot."

Payton Steiner, Haley Bullard, Olivia Belida, Bella Fonk and Tyesha Aguilar also contributed for the Knights.

Fraternal twins Blair and Alli Cunningham, as well as Helen Coyne, shined defensively for the Sharks. The runners-up also got contributions from Nicole Laz, Skylynn Rodriguez, Mia Matsunami, Chloe Bagiu and Kate Davison.

For Kaiser, it was a victory a long time coming, and one to savor.

"It's been a while," Steiner said. "It's really exciting to know that you've started the rally again. Hopefully next year, we'll win again."

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