Saturday, December 19, 2009

Congratulations to Ashley and Humboldt County's Mad River Lightning

'A testament to Nicole'
It's like something directly out of the pages of a Disney script.

A team of 11 9-year-old girls from a small town in rural California finds itself playing in the state championship tournament.

Having bonded through the tragic death of a teammate last season, the squad exceeds all expectations, playing at a level greater than the sum of its parts.

Then, the improbable run that carried the team through the tournament's first four rounds seems to be coming to an end, as the team trails 1-0 to an opponent from the much bigger city of Santa Cruz.

But, just as hopes are dimming, something almost miraculous happens.

As the final seconds of the first half ticked down, Ashley Quigley, who lost her twin sister and teammate Nicole Lynn Quigley in an October 2008 car accident, prepared for a corner kick on the rain-soaked field. Ashley booted the ball toward a streaking teammate near the goal, whose attempt to head the ball into the goal went awry, sending the ball looping back toward Ashley in the corner....

”As the ball floats down, a big gust of wind picks up and just blows it into the goal,” said Coach Dan Johnson, who has led the team for more than half a decade. “Right after the ball went in, this rainbow occurs, framing the goal at the end of the field.

”It was weird,” Johnson continued. “All of a sudden, this rainbow comes out, (the score is) 1-1 and, from there, the girls just kicked ass.”

Of course, this was no Disney script. It's the story of how Humboldt County's Mad River Lightning -- a girls youth soccer team -- turned tragedy into triumph, traveling directly from the sentencing of two men who pleaded guilty to causing the death of their teammate, Nicole, to the California Under-10 Youth Soccer League State Cup in Livermore last weekend.

They ultimately emerged with the state title.

And, Johnson said, it was the improbable goal last Saturday that helped swing the momentum, transforming the Lightning's playoff run from good to great, from one that would have brought them home with their heads held high to one that saw them return as undisputed champions.

”(The goal) was one of those special moments in life that you'll never forget,” said Johnson, who said he's not a spiritual man, but had to turn to spiritual words to describe the moment. “People talk about angels and stuff all the time. ... I don't know about all that. I just know (Nicole) was there.”

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