COSTA MESA — The only bench the Newport Coast Elementary fifth- and sixth-grade girls’ silver division soccer team had during this week’s Daily Pilot Cup was the one Coach Ramzi Ammari carried to and from games over his shoulder.
Ammari’s two rows of five retractable plastic seats, that folded down to fit concisely in a convenient tote bag, allowed his players to rest during pregame talks, halftime adjustments and postgame breakdowns. During games, however, the seats sat empty, since all 11 players on the roster were on the field.
This lack of flux, with each player manning the same position for the entirety of every game, helped create cohesion that was tough to beat. So it was that the Coyotes mastered not only their roles, but their opponents, including Mariners Christian School, which they topped, 3-2, in the final to claim the division title Sunday at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
“The nice thing about having 11 players is that there are no substitutions,” Ammari said after his team held off a second-half comeback against Mariners Christian, following a 3-1 semifinal win over Harbor Day. “The players played the same positions throughout the tournament and they got used to it. They knew who was around them, who to play the ball to and who was going to come back and cover for them. It worked out great.”
It was Newport Coast’s ability to retain its collective shape that helped it maintain a winning balance between offense and defense. Of course, possessing perhaps the best talent in the division also came in handy.
Offensive catalysts on Sunday included Cerise Cornman, Sophia Harvey, Emily Mickelson, Sarah Schoenbaum, Monique Martin and Morgan Snyder, while Paris Ammari, Sophia Rhee, goalkeeper Johna Zahed, Carly Recker and Darya Wosoughkia handled things at the defensive end.
There wasn’t much to handle but offense in the first half, when Newport Coast used a 10-1 advantage in shots to claim a 3-0 lead against a Lions squad that had not been scored upon in four previous tournament wins, including a 2-0 semifinal triumph earlier Sunday against Pomona.
“You have to go into these games up,” Ramzii Ammari said. “Because if you’re not up, its really tough to come back from behind. We dominated the first half.”
Newport Coast came out firing from the start, though it took until the 21st minute to open the scoring.
Cornman did the honors, taking possession when the Lions’ goalkeeper bobbled the ball inside the box. After one quick dribble to get past the keeper, Cornman tapped the ball into the open net.
Just three minutes later, Cornman was in the middle of another goal, as she calmly passed a ball from the middle of the field to the left wing, where a wide-open Schoenbaum drove a shot just inside the near post to double the lead.
After a Mickelson blast from 25 yards out bounded off the crossbar and a Harvey shot went just wide, Harvey found the net by lacing a drive virtually through the goalkeeper from about 10 yards out.
The third goal, just before the half ended, proved to be invaluable, as Mariners Christian refused to go quietly.
With Taylor Murphy leading the charge, the Lions roared back after intermission, posting a 7-1 advantage in shots after the break.
Sophia Applebee, who played the first half in goal (three saves), finished a rebound off a shot from teammate Claire Francis to get the Lions on the scoreboard in the 41st minute.
Mariners Christian continued to apply pressure, but couldn’t find the net, until Libby Gesford scored after a scramble ensued on a free kick inside the box.
The whistle ended play just seconds later, but Mariners Christian Coach Tayt Ianni and assistant Matt Francis were quick to praise their players for their continual fight.
“I loved the heart,” Ianni said of his players’ refusal to relent with a three-goal deficit. “To me, the character they showed to come back like that was fantastic against a great team like Newport Coast.”
Alex Ianni earned praise from her father and coach for her consistently strong play during the tournament, during which goalkeeper Laila Klinsmann sparked before missing Sunday to be with her father, Jurgen Klinsmann, who guided U.S. men’s national team to a 4-3 win over Germany in Washington, D.C.
Additional contributors for Mariners Christian were Sarah Sandoval, Samantha Olsen, Vanessa Royal, Hannah Novakovich, Valerie Tung, Olivia Crum, Paige Bryant, Natasha Hill and Gigi Minasian.