The same day that the KYFA Tournament was finishing in Kisumu, we were expected in Oyugis (a 2 hour drive) for another nationwide tournament run by Society Empowerment Project (SEP). In this tournament, there were teams from Thika, Nairobi, Kisumu and other places. We didn’t get a good drawing for the pools and were in a 3-team pool with two of the best teams. In our first match we played the defending champs, Kayole from Nairobi. Their team is loaded with good players from around the nation’s capital; several of them also play on the Kenyan National Team. We played with three of our primary girls and eight secondary school girls. It was a hard fought match, but both teams failed to score and settled for a scoreless draw. That result qualified Kayole for the semifinals and put us in a good position to qualify with a win or draw in our final group game. The only problem is we were facing a very strong team who also happened to be the hosts, SEP. Two years ago we beat the SEP team in the finals to win the trophy and take back to Mbita. However, this time around, they are older and much better than two years ago. Our girls jumped on top with two early goals by Pauline to take a 2-0 lead. Towards the end of the 1st half, SEP received a rather dubious penalty kick from their hometown referee and pulled within a goal. The second half was pretty tense and we weren’t getting many breaks, but with a lot of grit and determination, we held on for a 2-1 win to tie atop the group. Because of goal difference, we took the 2nd seed and faced the #1 seed from the other pool in the semifinals.
The semifinals weren’t as tough as our group games. We dominated Kasagam from Kisumu right from the opening whistle and it finally paid off with a great goal in the opening minutes of the 2nd half. We were awarded a free kick outside the box and Irine Achieng placed a beautiful left-footed looping shot towards the far post of the goal. It sailed past the jumping goal keeper’s hands and Sharon Bismark leaped higher than the defender covering her for a perfect header into the back of the net. Kasagam never really had a serious threat on goal after that and we emerged as the winner, ready to face Kayole once again in the finals. It was a matchup of the previous two Champions; Suba Lakers in 2011 and Kayole in 2012.
The finals resembled the first group match, but this time there was even more effort and determination from both sides to take home the winner’s trophy. In the first half both teams had multiple shots on goal, but the game settled down in the second half and the defenses got more stingy. As the match was winding down, both teams were settling in to the reality that it would come down to post-match penalty kicks, but in the dying minutes a mistake cost the Suba Lakers. On a Kayole throw-in, the Lakers midfield relaxed for a moment and left the opponent unmarked. That player scooted through the midfield and laid a beautiful pass through the back defenders. Our goalkeeper recognized that the defense was beaten and raced to the ball, but she was a second too late as the striker chipped it over her head. With less than two minutes remaining we didn’t have a chance to mount a comeback. It was discouraging, but still a good showing for our girls who haven’t played or trained together very much during the school year.
While what’s happening on the pitch is often the focus of a tournament, we were grateful the girls were blessed with a special speaker. Margaret Belewa is the East Africa Regional Coordinator for Street Football World http://www.streetfootballworld.org, a world-wide NGO dedicated to sustainable social change using football to support development and education. Margaret shared her personal life story with the girls, which included being brought up in a very humble home, much the same as our girls. She didn’t receive her first pair of shoes until she entered secondary school. She shared with the girls the importance of not only having dreams in life, but also setting goals. She challenged them to consider how their daily choices affect their future. She’s a very successful Kenyan woman who our girls can look to as an example, yet she wasn’t handed her success. She worked hard and taught our girls that “You can make it- if you work hard.”
On September 2nd, our secondary girls returned to their various boarding schools for the last term of the school year, and we won’t see them again until the end of November. In September, October and November we will be focusing on the primary school girls from around Mbita town.
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