“Happiness, joy, pride, success, strength, unity, coach, teammate, friendship, love, laugh, respect, tears, belief, pain, injuries, disappointment and hard work” were all words that long-time team captain Jolanta Kunickaite would use to describe last weekend’s Club Nationals Tournament in Reno, NV. After a long weekend and six games in three days, the Chicago Inter Women’s team clinched another national championship, its 5th since 2007.
The weekend started with an early start on Friday against long-time rival New York City in a rematch of the championship game from 2011. Drawing a challenging pool schedule, the early morning game was critical. Center back Amie Jatta commented, “We had good energy… and when the communication was on you could see the defense working.” It was a tight game the whole way (setting a tone for most of the weekend) but even with its early morning kinks, Inter held on to its lead to win 15-13.
The women would defeat the speedy San Francisco Smurfs later in the afternoon, 20-13. Then they would defeat New Jersey 21-3 on Friday morning to setup a battle with the similarly undefeated and highly anticipated Los Angeles team for pool supremacy. The Inter women couldn’t adapt quickly enough to the aggressive defensive stylings of LA and would fall 15-17.
The loss to LA would pit Inter against the first-seed from the other pool, North Carolina. The two teams square off frequently and Carolina always seems to bring extra fire when playing Inter, so the ladies knew they were in for a tough semi-final. Following the success of LA’s five plus one defense, Carolina would try the same though the Inter ladies were better prepared this time. “I’m really proud of the girls. We didn’t have a huge roster this year, but they put everything they had out there and kept pushing,” commented goalie Jacque Messel. The game was indeed back and forth and extra tense at times, but the clutch penalty shots of Amie Jatta and the 7 goals from right wing, Ekaterina Martsul were critical in putting Inter on top 19-17 to go through to the finals.
In Sunday’s championship game, Inter would square off against the very technically sound, Colorado Springs Dynamo. Fresh off their own semi-finals victory over Los Angeles, the Dynamo were hungry for more and matched the Inter ladies goal for goal until the final moments when left wing, Francie Moehring found herself with the ball at the 6m line. “I actually think my mind was blank when I scored that goal, all I saw was this huge opening in front of me and I knew I had to take the shot in that moment.” Francie’s goal push the Inter ladies into a 21-20 lead with seconds left to play. “The only thought that kept racing through my mind was, we have to play tough defense now for the last few seconds, and so I sprinted back to defense.” The Dynamo managed to get a shot off as the clock dwindled down, but goalie Jacque Messel was there to make the save and preserve Inter’s victory.
To make the victory even sweeter, Inter’s Captain, Jolanta Kunickaite, was the second leading scorer for the weekend (with 29 goals) and was unanimously voted as the Most Valuable Player for her consitantly excellent play. “I am very thankful to all my former and current teammates and to my coach who all helped me get this award. You are the biggest part of my success,” she humbly commented on her selection. In Chicago, we know that Jolanta is an integral part of the team’s success, so it was especially rewarding to see her honored at the national level.