Saturday had arrived, and with it, the practice game between the girls soccer teams of Kamakura Middle and Enoshima High.
"I never thought Keiko and Ryo would end up playing against each other." said Nana as she, Koichi and Kakeru took their seats in the stands of Enoshima's field
"And it's the first game of the year for them." said Kakeru "Where's Hiroki?
"His team came to watch as well. He's watching the game with them."
"Kakeru! Nana-san!" said a familiar voice on their left. It was Ryuichi Araki, who thankfully was in his best form. Followed by Michiro Takase, Kaoru Matoba, and Kota Nakatsuka.
"Araki-san! Takase, Kaoru, Kota! Long time no see." said Kakeru as they sat down next to them
"NANA-CHAN!" Kota yelled as he ran to Nana "Long time no se...."
Bam! Ball, Red Card. Kota was knocked out in the seats behind them
"Don't flirt with me, Kota-kun." said Nana "I'm married to Kakeru with four kids now. Geez, in the twenty years I've known you, you haven't changed at all."
"Twenty years since the day we met. Time sure flies." said Kaoru
"Indeed it does." said Kakeru "Why are you guys here?"
"Same as you." said Takase
"We're here to watch your daughter play." said Araki
"I don't know how you found out about it, but I won't ask." said Kakeru
"We found out from Mako." said Kaoru
"That's right, he's the coach for the Enoshima boys team now." said Nana
"Speaking of boys, who's the kid besides you?" Araki asked
"This is Koichi, our youngest. He's still in Elementary."
"How far along are you with your fifth kid?" Araki asked
"I'm not pregnant, Araki-san. And I don't see myself have any more kids any time soon."
"Our twins, Ryo and Hiroki, are first years in Middle school now, while Keiko is a first in Enoshima." Kakeru explained
"We knew that much, since we knew she was playing in this match." said Takase
"So's Ryo." said Nana
"She's playing on the middle school team."
"That's a first." said a voice on Nana's right. It was Taeko Ishiki.
"Tae-san!" said Nana as Taeko sat down "Here to watch Keiko play?"
"Uh-huh. I need to see her play before I let her on the team." said Taeko
"What's she talking about?" Kota, who finally recovered and sat behind them, asked
"Mai-chan, who's now the coach for the Enoshima girls team, recommended Keiko, with our approval, for a spot on Nadeshiko Japan." Kakeru explained
"And you let that happen?" Araki asked
"Pearsonally, we were against it." said Kakeru
"But, it would've been wrong of us to deny our eldest child of a chance to play at the representative level." said Nana "So we allowed it."
"The recommendation got through, thank God, but before I offer her a place, I need to see if she's as good as Mai described." said Taeko
"Then prepare to be amazed." said Nana as the teams started to come out "Speak of the devils, here they come now."
"Since both your daughters are playing on opposing teams," said Araki "I guess this means that you two, as parents, can't take sides this time."
"Ain't that the truth." said Nana "But if you want to root for Enoshima, we won't stop you."
"What positions are they playing?" Kaoru asked
"They're both forwards." said Kakeru "Keiko's number seven, and Ryo's number eleven."
"I heard from Mai that Keiko's playing style is almost identical to yours." said Taeko
"Stop it." Nana said firmly "Is she our flesh and blood? Yes. But no matter how much she looks like us, or plays like us, she's not me, and she most certainly isn't Kakeru." Kakeru nodded in approval
"We never said they were." said Takase
On the field;
"Almost time for the kick-off." said Suzuka and she and Keiko warmed up on the field with the rest of the starting players
"After all this waiting, it's finally time to settle this." said Keiko, still warming up. Just then, she glanced the stands and spotted her parents "Oh, great. My parents, and some of their friends, have come to watch. Now Ryo and I have to play well."
"Hey, who's that sitting next to your mom?" Yukari, who, being number 10, was playing the Below-Top, asked "Isn't that Taeko Ishiki, the coach for Nadeshiko Japan?"
"What's she doing here?" Keiko asked
"Probably looking for potential players from both teams. I hear that they're letting middle-schoolers play these days. Speaking of which." Suzuka said, taking a look at the formation of the opposing team "3-3-4, from the front. Three strikers, three mid-fielders, including the below-top, and four Defenders. They're on both defense and offense, while we're mostly offense with our 2-5-3. Even though we're against middle-schoolers, this won't be easy."
"Don't be such a worry wart, senpai." said Yuki
"Kei-nee." said Ryo, who had come over to Enoshima's side of the field for a quick talk before the kick-off "Noriko-senpai said that the only reason she let me on the team was because of a deal you made with her. What did she mean by that?"
"Never you mind." Keiko told her in a stern voice "Just make sure you don't hold back on me, this may be our only chance to play together this year. You hear?"
"Don't hold back!"
"Right." Ryo turned back to return to her position
"And, Ryo." Keiko said in her normal vice
"Let's have fun." Keiko told her with a smile. Ryo nodded in approval and returned to her position
"You really are the 'big-sister type'." said Yukari
"Alright you two, get in position for the kick-off." said Suzuka
"Its finally time for the Kick-off for the Kamakura Middle vs Enoshima High girls soccer game." said the male announcer of the Enoshima Broadcasting club "I'm Yukinari Kojima."
"And I'm Kirie Sasaki." said the female anouncer "We're the Enoshima High Broadcasting Club, and we'll be covering today's game."
"I must say that this a really mix-matched team Coach Murasaki's put together this year." said Yukinari "Before we do the kick-off, I'll take a few moments to announce Enoshima's starters. The Keeper is 2nd year Amuro Okiura. In defense from the left, we have 1st year Yuzuki Kirishima, 2nd year Moka Aono, and 3rd Miki Hattori. Our midfielders; In defense from the left, we have 2nd year Haruhi Suou and 3rd year Nagisa Okazaki. In offense, we have 1st year Yuki Nonomiya, 2nd year Kiyomi Yura, and, in Below-top position, we have the number 10, 2nd year Yukari Hayakawa. The forwards, 3rd year Captain Suzuka Akitsuki and 1st year Keiko Aizawa. Two of the starters, Aizawa and Nonomiya, are both former players of the Kamakura Middle girls team, now captained by Number 10, 3rd year Noriko Kishitani. Nonomiya was last year's captain for Kamakura, and it is also mentionable that Aizawa's younger sister, 1st year Ryo Aizawa, is playing Number 11 for Kamakura as a Forward. Now, it really is time for the kick-off. And there's the referee's whistle. Number 7, Aizawa, has possession. She dribbles in at a quick pace, but is immediately marked by her sister."
"Gimme the ball!" Ryo told her
"What ball?" Keiko replied. Ryo looked down and noticed that the ball was gone
"She Heel-passed to Number 10, Hayakawa." said Kirie "Hayakawa goes even further down, past several players, while Aizawa slips past her sister."
"She finds herself marked by Number 10, Kishitani, and passes to Number 11, Captain Akitsuki." said Yukinari "Akitsuki is now in front of the defenders as she approaches the penalty area. She slips past all of them. She's now one-on-one with the Keeper. Incredible, instead of taking her on, Akitsuki passes to Aizawa. Aizawa takes a shot! The Keeper manges to block it, but the ball's still in play. No goal. Ryo slips past them and clears the ball. It's a corner shot."
In the stands;
"I could have easily made that." said Araki as Suzuka made to take the corner shot
"You could've." said Kaoru "But this is a girls game, not a boys game."
"And the game's just getting started." said Nana
On the field;
"Akitsuki is about to take the corner shot. Who will she use?" Kirie asked
"Keiko wasn't kidding." Suzuka thought as she prepared to take the corner shot "Ryo is good. If she hadn't interfered, the ball would've went in. Noriko knows it too, judging from the look on her face. I'll worry about it later. Let me see. Ryo's been marking Keiko since the whistle blew, but there's a major height difference between them. Noriko and another player are both marking Yukari, probably just being cautious. Yuki's being heavily marked as well. My best option is...."
"Akitsuki kicks. It goes to... Aizawa! Aizawa jumps and heads it, and it goes in! Goal! 1-0 for Enoshima!"
"Nice one, Suzuka!" Keiko said, holding up her hand for a high-five
"Nice header." Suzuka replied, high-fiving Keiko
"I'm sorry, Captain." Ryo said to Noriko "I let my mark slip."
"Just get back to position." Noriko ordered Ryo, who obliged "That was to be expected due to their height differences, but Ryo did delay that goal. Is it possible I was wrong about her?" Noriko thought as she got back to her position for the next kick-off
In the middle of first half. Enoshima High earned a free kick from the middle of the pitch.
"Free kick for Enoshima. Nagisa Okazaki takes it quickly and finds Nonomiya on the left. Yuki Nonomiya... to Keiko Aizawa, who deflects it in the middle for Hayakawa! It's 2-0! Wonderful play by Enoshima High!"
"How many touches were there between free kick and goal? So few touches, but very quick passes. No Enoshima player takes more than 2 touches of the ball. They have carved Kamakura Middle wide open!" said Kirie enthusiastically
"What are you doing at the back? Sleepin'?" Noriko scolded her team's defenders
"She is too good for us." replied one of the Kamakura Middle defenders
"No excuses! Get moving!" ordered Noriko, blood boiling from inside
With just 2 minutes before halftime, Kamakura Middle repelled an Enoshima attack and cleared the ball away. Only Ryo was there for Kamakura Middle, but she applied pressure on the Enoshima defenders and took the ball away from Miki.
"Ryo Aizawa arriving for Kamakura, she performs a Sombrero flick over Moka Aono. Kirishima arrives, but collides with her teammate! Now Ryo Aizawa's all alone. That's a great goal by Ryo Aizawa! It's 2-1 and Kamakura Middle are back in the game!" Yukinari announced
"Despite her small size, Ryo Aizawa applied great pressure on Hattori, performs the Sombrero flick and then flicked the ball further for herself while letting the 2 Enoshima defenders collide against one another. Despite being 4 years younger than Okiura, Ryo Aizawa keeps her cool and strikes the shot past the goalkeeper." said Kirie
"I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have come in." Yuzuki apologized
"I should be the one sorry. I didn't shout for it." replied Moka
"It's only one goal, girls! We will have it back." Suzuka shouted words of encouragement for her teammates
Meanwhile, Noriko previously saw the action unfolding from distance and could only stand in awe at what Ryo did against 3 high school defenders.
"She really is good. Those 3 defenders are clearly taller than she is and yet she went head on against them. None of them was near able to knock her off the ball." Noriko thought
Following that goal which cut the deficit to just one goal for Kamakura Middle, time winded down towards halftime. On the Enoshima High bench, Mai held her customary halftime team talk.
"Alright girls," said Mai "its 2-1 in our favor. We need to either hold that, or score once more."
"Any ideas, Coach?" Haruhi asked
"We're hardening out defense and offense. I'm taking out one offensive mid-fielder and putting in one forward and one more on defense." Mai told them "Haruhi and Kiyomi, you're coming out."
"Right, right." said Haruhi
"Sachiko, you're in."
"Yes!" Sachiko replied, taking of her bench jersey
"And, Aoi, you're going in on defense."
"Both of you start warming up."
"It's 3-4-3 now." said Saito as he handed a water bottle to Keiko and Suzuka "That's a major difference. Won't there be holes?"
"Not necessarily." said Suzuka
"Why do you say that?" Keiko asked
"You're more laid back than I thought." said Saito
"It's finally time for the Kick-off of the second half." Yukinari announced "Both teams seem to have made a slight change in lineup."
"Suou and Yura have been subbed for 1st years Sachiko Komatsu as a Forward and Aoi Hanabishi as a defensive midfielder. Let's see how this effects the game." said Kirie "And there's the kick-off. It's Kamakura in possession. Ryo Aizawa, making use of her small stature, slips past both her sister and the newcomer, Number 20, Komatsu. Now up against the defenders, she passes to captain Kishitani, who immediately passes to the other forward, Number 9, Chika Takeshita. Takeshita passes the defender but is still marked. Takeshita passes high back to Aizawa. Aizawa makes a jumping volley! Goal! 2-2, barely five minutes after the kick-off, and it's a tie game again."
"How did she do that?" Keiko demanded
"We should've marked her more tightly." said Sachiko
"Don't blame yourselves." said Suzuka "The game's not over yet."
The second half winded down with scoring opportunities on both sides, but nothing to break the deadlock. However, things changed with only 5 minutes left to play.
"Kamakura Middle is on the attack here. It's a pass towards their captain, Noriko Kishitani. Now it's a pass towards Ryo Aizawa." Yukinari announced.
"This is where it stops." said Moka as she used her body to block Ryo
"I'm not falling for that." Ryo thought as she deflected the pass back towards the dashing Noriko
"A give-and-go back to Kishitani! Oh, it's in! Kamakura Middle lead by 3 goals to 2!" Yukinari announced "A late goal in the match. Kishitani and Ryo Aizawa combined again. Kamakura Middle are a few minutes away from making the unthinkable happen."
"We need to at least tie this game." said Suzuka, as they prepared for what was probably going to be the most hectic minutes of the game "Still, I have to ask, are you enjoying youself?"
"Yeah." said Keiko, who, along with Suzuka, was finally starting to push her limits "I'm really having a good time. And I think Ryo and Noriko are enjoying it too."
And here was the restart;
"Here's where Keiko messes up." Noriko thought as they retreated down their side of the field "Victory is ours."
Normal time winded down and the game entered into injury time.
"Akitsuki passes to Hayakawa as they make their way down the field." Yukinari announced "The clock is winding down deep into injury time. Can Enoshima tie this game before then?"
"Yes, we can." thought Keiko as she received a pass from Yukari, even though she was still marked my Ryo.
"Aizawa, still marked by the other one, slips past all defenders, but finds herself blocked by Kishitani" Kirie announced "Can she.... What was that!?"
Keiko used Kakeru's Phi-trick to slip past Noriko. And Ryo, unfamiliar with their father's technique, was unable to do anything.
"She slips past the captain with that unique feint, but another defender jumps out of nowhere." Yukinari announced "She performs a roulette... wait, that's not one. She turns back around, and, like a dancer, slips past the defender. She's one-on-one with the Keeper. She knocks the ball up, turns around, and jumps. The ball goes over the keeper's head and... it's a Goal! 3-3!"
"Oh, what a magnificent Bicycle Shot! Keiko Aizawa got past several players on her own, made them look like statues, comes in alone against the goalkeeper and finishes it off with the most difficult shot to take in such circumstances. Take a bow, Keiko Aizawa!" said Kirie
"Keiko Aizawa snatches the draw from the jaws of defeat! What drama! Kamakura Middle will kick for a restart, but the referee will most likely put an end right after it." said Yukinari.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEEEEP
"And there's the Ref's whistle." said Kirie "It's a tie. What a great game!"
"Nice one Keiko!" said Suzuka, helping Keiko to her feet
"Thanks." Keiko replied
"Hey!" said Noriko "About our deal."
"You said we wouldn't draw." said Yuki, appearing as if out of nowhere "Does this make the deal invalid?"
"About that... you guys can just forget about the deal. Ryo can stay on the team." she walked away without another word
"Yes! Yahoo!" Miki exclaimed, giving Suzuka a high-five
in the stands;
"What did you guys think?" Kakeru asked "Impressed?"
"I must say that both your daughters, and their teams, performed beyond my expectations." said Araki
"And, Tae-san, about Keiko?" said Nana
"Mai wasn't exaggerating." said Taeko "Your eldest does have what it takes."
"Don't tell her about it just yet. I'll personally make the offer to her in due time." Taeko then got up and left
"Congratulations." said Kota "Keiko is the first of your kids to make it."
"The congratulations goes to Keiko, not us." said Kakeru, who couldn't help shedding tears of joy at this
The following Monday, Keiko's team, still psyched from Saturdays game were doing beach soccer for practice again.
"I still can't believe we tied with Middle-Schoolers." said Tsukasa as they took their half-time break "Before Yukari came along, I was the number 10. If I had played we might have won."
"That sister of yours, Keiko." said Yukari
"Tell me about it." said Keiko as she took a drink of water
"Kei-nee!" called Ryo from behind them. She wasn't alone, Noriko was with her. Ryo was wearing a black bikini, while Noriko was wearing a green one.
"Ryo-chan? Noriko? What are you two doing here." Yuki asked as the pair got near them
"We don't have regular practice today, so we came to join you." said Ryo "Plus, Noriko-senpai wanted to talk with Kei-nee and Yuki-nee."
"With us?" Keiko inquired
"Alright everyone. I know it's early, but back to practice." said Suzuka, who knew full well what this was about "This'll be uncomfortable enough without you all listening in."
Everyone obeyed the captain's order, and was gone within moments
"I just... (sigh) I wanted to apologize." said Noriko with a fully apologetic voice "For everything. Making that stupid deal, hurting Ryo, refusing her a place on the team, and judging her by what you used to be like. I was completely in the wrong."
"All true." said Yuki
"Yuki." said Keiko
"Noriko, look, I'm not going to hold all that against you." Keiko told her "Further, I knew you'd call off the deal once you had seen me and Ryo play."
"You know me well." said Noriko "You weren't kidding when you said that you had improved, and that Ryo was a great player. She will be a great asset to the team."
"I won't let you down, Captain." said Ryo
"I know you won't."
"Now that that's over with, you came all this way so, Coach!" Keiko called "Can Noriko and my sister join in?"
"I don't see why not." Mai called back, and Keiko gestured for them both to join in, which they did.