Inter-High; Enoshima vs Kamakura
The weekend was over. Monday had come. And with it, the soccer team being exempted from classes, the first round of the main Inter-High Tournament.
Monday June 14th;
"Let's give it our all, everybody." said Suzuka as they changed into their kits in the locker rooms of the field they were playing in "We win this, and we're in the top 8."
"True." said Keiko as she tucked her necklace into her soccer shirt "I notice a few of us are missing."
"(sigh) Anyone who failed at least one midterm can't participate in the tournament." said Tsukasa "Eight of our girls, six of them our regular starters, can't play as a result."
"True." said Mai "So, with that in mind, we're going with the traditional 2-5-3 formation. Here's the starting lineup for the tournament; Keeper: Momoko."
"Good luck on your make-ups, Amuro-chan." Momoko said under her breath
"Our Defenders:" Mai continued "Yuzuki and Miki. Our midfielders: Aoi, Yuki, Kiyomi, Yukari, and Akane. Yukari will play Below-top as usual.
"This'll be tense." Yuki whispered to Keiko
"And, our Forwards: Keiko, Suzuka, and Tsukasa."
"Who else." said Tsukasa
"The Kickoff is in fifteen minutes ladies." Mai finished and left the room
"Hey, Keiko." said Yukari "Heard your little bro made the men's U-13."
"How'd you know?" Keiko asked surprised
"I kinda let it slip." Yuki confessed
"This is one time I won't scold you."
"You mean it's for real?!" Miki exclaimed
"Unbelievable." said Nagisa
"Believe it." said Chloe
"After seeing him play the other day, I can't say I'm surprised." said Suzuka
"Before Director Yukimura left, he told Hiroki to take some time to think about it since he's in the middle of a tournament as well." Keiko told them "But, less than ten minutes later, he told Papa to call his number to tell him that Hiroki said 'yes'. He's participating in a training camp for the U-13 next month."
"Way to go, Hiroki!" said Miki
"Enough of that." said Suzuka "We need to focus on that game at hand. Kamakura hasn't made it to the Nationals for since before the last time we faced them. Let's show those girls that Enoshima is still deserving of the title!"
"Right!" the team chorused
On the field;
"And here they are!" said Yukinari as both teams came out onto the field "It's the first round of the main Women's Inter-High Tournament, to determine who will go to the top 8, Enoshima High vs Kamakura High!"
"It's been three years since these two teams have faced each other." said Kirie "Meaning this a whole new generation of players going against each other. Let's see how our beloved Enoshima fares against an opponent they haven't faced for so long."
"Have you ever hated the Broadcasting Club?" Keiko asked Suzuka
"Yup." Suzuka replied simply
Keiko glanced up in the stands, and saw that only Kakeru had come to watch. So surprise, as the kids still had class, and Nana had a meeting with some old friends that she couldn't refuse.
"Hey, Aizawa!" said Kamakura's number 9 "I'm surprised your team made it this far, especially with that lame talent of yours, 'Famous Name'."
"Look who's talking." Keiko shouted back "Better than being in a school that's all bark and no bite. You guys haven't made it to Nationals for five years." The number 6 replied with an Akanbe
"Friend of yours?" Tsukasa asked
"Yuka Tatsunoko (ゆか タツノコ). Two years ago she was a senpai of mine on the middle school team, and Yuki's immediate predecessor as captain. She wasn't easy to work with, and I doubt she'll be easy to play against."
"Noted." said Suzuka as the ref signaled the clear for the kickoff.
Kamakura kicked off. They hadn't even gone five feet before Keiko managed to steal the ball for Enoshima, and took off down Kamakura's side of the field, followed close behind by Suzuka, Tsukasa, and Yukari. "Damn, they're fast!" Keiko heard one of the Kamakura players say as they ran.
Halfway down the pitch, Keiko found herself blocked by three Kamakura players, and passed to Suzuka before she was locked down. Suzuka then made a one-touch pass to Yukari, who then made a one-touch pass to Tsukasa, who then entered the Penalty Area. Inside the area, Tsukasa swiftly evaded the Defenders, feinted a shot at the right end of the goal, the keeper fell for it, and Tsukasa in turn shot at the left end of the goal.
"GOOOAAALLL!" Yukinari roard "Tachibana scores! 1-0 for Enoshima!"
"Nice, Tsuka-chan!" said Suzuka
"First time you've ever called me that. It's usually Nagisa." said Tsukasa
"Come on, let's get in position for the next kickoff." said Keiko
The game continued to go in Enoshima's favor for the remainder of the first half. Despite their excellent formations, defense, and offense, Kamakura had really taken Enoshima too lightly, and as a result, the first half ended with Enoshima leading 5-1.
"This is too easy." said Yukari happily as the sat on the bench for the half-time break.
"Don't get cocky." said Suzuka as she accepted a water bottle from Saito
"But it's Kamakura's fault for taking us so lightly." said Yuki
"They won't do it again in the second half."
"Those girls do seem to be a bit agitated." said Momoko "From back at the goal, I can see that they're plays are sloppy compared to that video of them we saw. It's like they lost their focus."
"I think that's exactly what happened!" Mai perked up "In every match they play, they always scored first. But we took the first goal, and rather quickly, so it sucked the stuffing out of them. Plus, for those girls, it's the first time they're playing us, so they don't know how to react to our plays."
"Even Tatsunoko is having a hard time pinning Keiko down." said Tsukasa
"Then let's not allow them to adapt." said Chloe "Let's do something different in the second half, keep them surprised, and get into the top 8."
"Don't go easy on them either." said Mai
"Right." the team chorused
However, Kamakura, after calming down, managed to get back into it's groove. Within the first fifteen minutes, they pushed and pushed and somehow managed to tie up the score to 5-5 by the twenty-minute mark.
"This is ridiculous!" said Keiko as they prepared to kickoff again "Ten minutes left, and it's a tie game again."
"Calm down. It's not over yet." said Suzuka "But this is a pain. You all right, Tsukasa?"
"Can I ask for a sub?" Tsukasa asked, clearly tired "I'm wiped out. I don't think Yuki and Kiyomi are gonna last much longer either."
"Right." Suzuka signaled Mai, and she subbed Yuki, Tsukasa and Kiyomi for Nagisa, Sachiko and Miho.
"You two look tired as well." said Sachiko as she took her place with her fellow Forwards
"We're fine." said Keiko "We can continue playing."
"Then you should be able to pull off coach's plan."
After hearing the plan from Sachiko, and Miho and Nagisa relaying it to the rest of the team, Suzuka and Keiko kicked off. Keiko passed the ball back to Yukari and proceeded towards the goal. She also had a rough time trying to shake the two Kamakura players marking her.
She halted her advance just inside the penalty area, then watched Suzuka and Sachiko evade player after player, struggling to keep the ball in Enoshima's possession. Finally, Suzuka managed to bring the ball into the penalty area, and passed to Keiko. Keiko, trying to time this right, aimed a shot to the Keeper's right, but the Keeper bumped it away, as expected. Then, out of nowhere, Miki, displaying her skills as a libero for the first time, gave the ball a header into the goal. Enoshima now led 6-5.
"Nice header, Miki." said Suzuka
"I didn't know you were a libero." said Keiko
"I try not to show off." said Miki
"Five minutes left." said Yukari "Given our stance, we should protect this lead instead of trying to score again."
"Captain?" Sachiko inquired
"We're going on the defense." said Suzuka
This decision paid off. Playing total defense, Enoshima was able to hold its one-goal lead
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEEEEP
It was over. Enoshima had won.
"That second half was brutal." Aoi groaned as she collapsed on the bench
"Quit complaining." said Chloe "Do have any idea how hard it was to sit here and do nothing?"
"You wanted to play?" Mai asked
"Hey, Keiko. Someone's looking at you." said Tsukasa, pointing to Kamakura's bench
Keiko glanced over and saw that it was Yuka "What?" Keiko inquired, and Yuka gave another akanbe in response, then took off "She's always been a child. And a sore loser."
Later, Keiko and Chloe left the field with Kakeru, then they went to Kamakura Middle to pick up Hiroki and Ryo. Koichi joined them too on the way home.
"Was the match amazing?" Hiroki asked earnestly as they walked home
"Amazing? I think 'brutal' is more the word." said Keiko, rubbing her neck
"You girls did look like you were having a rough time." said Kakeru "Nevertheless, it was great. It made me want to play too."
"You're not the only one." said Chloe "I wanted to play too."
"I wish we could've seen it." said Ryo
"I think it was better that you didn't." said Keiko
"Really, Onee-chan?" Koichi inquired
"Listen to your sister." said Chloe
They then reached the house and went inside. When they did, they heard some sort of argument coming from the dining room.
"We're home!" Keiko called when they walked in the door.
"NO! For the last time, the answer is 'no'." Nana's voice coming from the dining room
"What's this about?" Chloe asked Keiko, but Keiko just shrugged.
They removed their shoes and went into the dining room. In there, Nana was sitting at the table, opposite of her was Taeko Ishiki and the current director of Nadeshiko Japan, Mina Nakae.
"Ishiki-san? Director Nakae?" Keiko inquired as they all sat down around the table "Mama, what's going on here?"
"I think you can guess." said Kakeru
"We're here asking your mother to rejoin Nadeshiko Japan." said Taeko
"For real?!" said Keiko
"You're gonna play with the national team again, Mom?" Hiroki asked
"No." Nana replied bluntly "I've already given them the same answer for the last three years."
"Nana-chan, come on." said Mina "It's been years. You've got no reason not to join up again."
"'No reason'? I've got a reason. I'm a mother first and I've got four kids who need me."
"Sure, we're still kids, but we're not helpless anymore." said Keiko
"Keiko, please stay out of this, sweetheart." Nana told Keiko, then turned back to Taeko and Mina "Look, you two. I appreciate the offers, I really do. But I've got four kids and a husband. I can't just selfishly return to my old career."
"Mama." Ryo said softly
"We understand your commitment to your family, we really do." said Taeko "But they're growing up. You let them do as they please most of the time anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean? Regardless, it's been sixteen years since I last played. Who'll remember me? Who'll want to see me play?"
"I do." Kakeru spoke up "I want to see you play again."
"Don't think I don't know. Every chance you get, you go out to that old park and practice. That's the reason your skills haven't gone rusty. You can't fool me. You still love soccer, and want to play soccer again."
"I want to see you play too." Keiko piped up
"Mama, I've only ever seen you play on those old recordings of your matches. But... that's not enough for me anymore. You've sacrificed yourself for us all these years, never giving a thought to going back. But... that only makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty that I was the reason you quit playing soccer."
"It wasn't your fault!" Nana said hastily "I chose to leave. There's also one thing I never told anyone but Kakeru about: a few Nadeshiko Japan players have been heavily criticized for the way things ended in the 2015 World Cup. Sure, the JFA never blamed us, but a few disappointed fans didn't think so. Watching some of my senpais singled out and scapegoated for the defeat was disheartening. Since that day, I promised to myself that my family would never have to endure something like that."
"What about me? I am open to criticism from the very minute I have the Nadeshiko shirt on, and it's a risk I'm willing to accept."
"Says the girl who hates being the center of attention." said Ryo
"Can it, Ryo." Keiko told her sister before turning back to Nana "Even if it was not your best moment back then, I was always content to just watch and listen to your old memories of playing. But not anymore. I want to see the real thing. I want to play with you on the pitch!"
"We want to see you play too." said Hiroki
"Yeah, don't hold yourself back for us anymore." said Ryo
"Mommy should play soccer again." said Koichi
"You always cared about our happiness. Not long ago you said that seeing me wear that blue kit, playing against players from other countries, would make you happy. But what would make me happiest, would be to see you play again. To play side-by-side with you." Keiko got up and sat down next to Nana, then got down on her hands and knees "Please, come back to Nadeshiko Japan."
All of a sudden, Nana remembered the Final of the 2015 Women's World Cup, standing on the pitch of the BC Place, in Vancouver, where Japan came in second place after losing to the United States 5-2. After the Award Ceremony, Nana was asked about her feelings about the final, and she told the reporters "While I am disappointed with this loss, just have being able to compete is enough fulfillment. But one day my teammates and I will lift the trophy into the air again." Nana could hardly believe she had nearly forgotten those feelings. She also remembered a declaration she made that day, "I also promise that I will lift the trophy or win a gold medal with my children one day." is what she had told the reporters.
Nana looked around the room and saw that Hiroki, Ryo and Koichi were on their hands and knees as well. She then looked at Kakeru.
"Keiko's recent achievements have made me reconsider retirement." said Kakeru "If I can manage it, I'll play into my forties. It would be great if you would do the same."
Nana looked back at Keiko and sighed "Pick your head up, Keiko." Keiko did as she was told, and noticed that Nana was smiling for the first time since she got home "I'll tell you now, I'm not easy to play with."
Realizing what she meant, Keiko jumped up and hugged her mother, her eyes filled with tears of joy. Hiroki, Ryo and Koichi joined in as well.
After sixteen years of absence, Nana had rejoined Nadeshiko Japan.