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Authors: Alex Morgan

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BOOK: Saving the Team
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Emma nodded. “The boys were state champions last year,” she said. “That's major.”

Frida rolled her eyes. “Yes, they're very good at kicking a ball around a field of grass. Everybody bow down to them.
I'd like to see one of them learn a Shakespeare soliloquy.”

“Or win first place at the science fair!” Brianna chimed in.

I glanced over at Jessi, who wasn't paying attention to the conversation at all. In fact, she was scribbling furiously in her notebook. I tapped her on the shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

Jessi frowned. “My math homework.”

“Don't you have math class right after the pep rally?” I said.

She hung her head sheepishly. “Yep, that's why I'm hurrying. I meant to do it last night, but
The Real Teenagers of Beverly Hills
was on, and I got distracted.”

Before I could kid Jessi about watching a silly reality TV show instead of doing her homework, Coach Valentine picked up the microphone and motioned for the band to begin. The drummers started a slow drumroll. “Attention, please!” he announced. “Will everybody please give a big hand to your championship Kangaroo boys' soccer team!”

As the crowd cheered, the team came crashing through the paper banner. They ran toward the front of the stage, throwing out handfuls of candy from their pockets. The auditorium roared. People actually leaped out of their seats, arms outstretched, trying to get more candy. It was insane.

“They better throw some candy over here,” Jessi said, dropping her notebook to the floor. “I can't sit still for long without some sugar. Over here!” she shouted.

“And now,” said Coach Valentine, “your boys' soccer
team seventh-grade captain, Cody Taylor, would like to say a few words.”

“Shhhhh!” Jessi said, bits of candy practically flying out of her mouth. “I want to hear what Cody has to say.”

“He's in our English class,” I said, recognizing him as he took the stage with the other boys. He usually sat next to Steven, the boy who had helped me get to practice that first day. Cody and Jessi seemed pretty friendly in class. I'd noticed that Jessi seemed to prefer whispering to Cody rather than actually paying attention to the teacher!

“It's my absolute honor to represent the pride of Kentville Middle School,” Cody began. Cody had on a dress shirt and a thin tie that had clearly been picked out to match the school's Kentville blue. He looked very mature and composed, especially compared to his rowdy teammates behind him, who were jostling one another and joking around while he talked.

Frida yawned. “Anybody else bored by all this?”

“Shhh,” Jessi said. “Some of us are trying to listen!”

“Sheesh, okay,” Frida said, surprised at Jessi's insistence. Then she lowered her voice to a whisper. “Someone's got a crush, huh?”

Cody talked for a few minutes more before turning the microphone over to the eighth-grade captain, Trey Bishop.

Looking at the stage, I spotted Steven. He caught my eye and gave me a shy smile.

“He's cute, right?” Jessi said. I blushed and looked away from the scene in front of me. I didn't want to be caught
staring. “I love his little tie.” Oh, she was talking about Cody.

It wasn't until after the pep rally, as we all walked back to class, that I realized nobody onstage had mentioned that
first game was that day too. So correction: Kentville didn't just care about soccer—it cared about

The girls' team? Not so much.


“Kicks, Kicks!” everyone on the bus chanted. We were about to leave for our first game. The pep rally, even though it had been for the boys, had gotten us fired up too. Or maybe it was the sugar from the candy they'd handed out. Either way we were pumped.

“Aren't you excited?” Emma was practically yelling in our faces. As soon as the bus pulled away from the school, Emma broke open a big bag of M&M's. She managed to spill half of them all over the floor. Her face turned bright red.

“Clean up in aisle four!” Zoe yelled.

We all laughed hysterically, surprised at Zoe's uncharacteristic zinger. When I smiled at Jessi, I noticed she looked upset.

“What's up?” I asked her, concerned.

“I left my notebook at the pep rally,” she said. “I didn't
have my homework for math class. Which means I got a big fat zero.”

“It's just one zero,” I said, trying to cheer her up. “You'll make up for it.”

Jessi sighed. “Never mind about me. How are you feeling, Co-captain?”

I dropped my voice. Mirabelle was sitting in the back of the bus with her friends, but I didn't want her to overhear me. “So why did you nominate me for co-captain? You'd be great at it.”

“Too much responsibility,” Jessi replied. “Besides, you're an awesome player, and we need somebody strong to stand up to Princess Mirabelle.”

She smiled and I felt relieved to see her happy again. It had seemed weird to see her worried, since she was usually so upbeat.

“So, this is your favorite part about soccer, right?” I asked.

Jessi looked confused.

“Getting to leave school early!” I joked.

She agreed. “Those are the best kind of school days!” She called across the aisle to Emma. “Hey, Emma, give me one of those M&Ms.” She opened her mouth wide as Emma took aim.

We spent the ride to Victorton laughing while trying to toss M&M's into one another's mouths from across the aisle. Jessi was right—I liked school and all, but this was way better than being in class.

When we got to Victorton, just a short ride away, I looked for my mom, dad, and Maisie in the stands. I finally spotted them.

“Devin!” My dad called, waving with his free hand. In his other he was holding his video camera, just like always. Dad actually knew very little about soccer, but he tried to understand it. And he never missed a game, or the chance to record it on video. Last year, at the end of the season, he'd made the highlight video for our team. It had had slo-mo and been set to music and everything. It had been a hit at our team banquet.

I waved to my family and pointed them out to Jessi, who waved too. When she spotted the camera, she did a silly little dance. Maisie started cracking up. Jessi never missed an opportunity to ham it up. Then we headed to the visitors' bench to gear up.

Jessi reached into her bag and pulled out a colorful set of blue-and-orange plaid socks.

“These are so cool! Here's one of mine,” I said, handing her one of my pink floral socks.

“What are you doing?” Zoe asked curiously.

“We're switching one sock, for luck,” I explained. “Coach said we didn't have to wear uniform matching socks, so we're having some fun with it.”

“I could use some luck too. Who wants to swap a sock with me?” Zoe asked. Of course, even Zoe's knee socks were totally fashionable: red, orange, purple, and cream stripes. They would have looked just as adorable with a
skirt for school as they did with her soccer uniform. Frida came running over. “Fun!” she said. She had white socks with colorful polka dots all over them.

The seventh graders gathered around to see what was going on. A couple of the eighth graders smiled when they saw what was happening and came running over, socks in hand to join in.

“Stop.” Mirabelle held her hand up. “This is so juvenile,” she said, and sniffed.

The eighth-grade girls, shoulders slumped, walked away disappointed. I saw Grace shaking her head, but she didn't say anything. It didn't look like even the other eighth graders had the nerve to stand up to Mirabelle. I felt that maybe, as the co-captain, I should say something. But Mirabelle's fierce, angry eyes made me keep my mouth shut.

Jessi wasn't afraid of Mirabelle. She just rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out as Mirabelle walked away. At least Mirabelle didn't try to stop the seventh graders from having fun.

“Wait. We have to put them on a special way too,” Jessi said. “For good luck. Here, watch me.” She made a big show of putting on her right sock first and wiggling her toes, and then she did the same with her left foot. We all followed suit.

“And then we put our left shoes on first,” I added. “And you tie the right one last.”

My hand went up and touched my pink headband. No
matter what, I would always keep the ritual I'd had with Kara. Too bad Mirabelle had stopped us from making a new one with all of the Kangaroos. I asked Jessi to snap a picture of me with my phone camera, and then I sent the pic off to Kara.

First game in California!
I texted her.

Now I was ready.

As game time neared, I started to get the jitters. I hopped up and down, warming up my legs, and did a few stretches. Coach Flores gathered us into a large circle. “Girls, it's a beautiful day, so go out there and have fun! Everyone will have an equal chance to play. Eighth graders, you're up first. Then we'll sub in.”

Wait, what? That made zero sense! And it didn't seem fair at all. If all the eighth graders always got to play first, some of us would never start a game.

Jessi threw up her hand to object. “Why can't we start too?”

“Don't worry, Jessi. Everyone will get the same playing time,” Coach assured us, smiling. “It will be very fair. Fair and fun, words to live by!”

I didn't know what Coach Flores was thinking! I walked over to Jessi, Emma, and Zoe in a huff. “What is this all about?” I asked. “Why would Coach think it was a good idea to split us up by grade instead of starting out the best people in each position?”

Emma shrugged. “I guess she's trying to be fair?”

Mirabelle marched over to Coach Flores. “The eighth graders are short a player,” she said curtly. “I guess it's not a surprise since you gave us such short notice about the game.”

“How about Devin?” Coach Flores suggested, ignoring Mirabelle's snarky comment. “Since she's a captain?”

Mirabelle nodded. “Only if we can both play striker.”

“As long as that's okay with the rest of the team.” There went Coach Flores again, trying to make everyone happy.

“No, I can wait. It's okay,” I said. “Let Jessi play.” Mirabelle rolled her eyes at me.

“I'd rather wait too,” Jessi said. Now none of the seventh graders wanted to start. The Kangaroos couldn't even get eleven players on the field!

Frida chimed in, “If people are volunteering, I don't need to play at all.”
Great, even more of a mess.

Finally Coach Flores stepped in. “All the eighth graders plus Devin, get out there. Everyone will have the same playing time,” she repeated. It was the most decisive I'd seen Coach Flores yet.

I headed onto the field to face off against the Victorton Eagles.

With our pregame disorganization carrying onto the field, we quickly went down 2–0 before fifteen minutes had even gone by. Then Mirabelle managed to dance her way through the Victorton defense for an unassisted goal, but as a whole we looked terrible.

BOOK: Saving the Team
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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