High school soccer goes to the teeth

Friday night lights mean football in most minds, but my high school highlights are the rivalry soccer games we played a few times a season in the football stadium, at night, under the lights.

What is it about a night game in high school that makes you feel like you're sneaking out and smoking your first cigarette? Suiting up and walking out from the locker room at dusk in team formation left me anxious, buzzed and nauseous all at the same time. It was electric.

We may not have required an ambulance parked behind the end zone, but let me tell you, girls' soccer is no picnic. My most graphic memory came during senior year. It is filed away in my memory under the title "Human Bite."

It was a crisp New England autumn night. Each blade of grass on the perfectly mowed pitch was wet with the dew that appears as night falls and temperatures drop. The field glistened in the glow of towering lights, and escalating silver bleacher benches were soon filled by hoodies, fleeces and scarves of fans clad in red and white or blue and orange.

I can remember how my feet felt in my cleats as the wetness soaked through to my socks. I remember the piercing October air filling my lungs during our warm-up wind sprints. Most of all, I remember No. 14 -- the opposing midfielder who I had been grinding hips and pulling jerseys against for four years. It all came to this.

The first half was back and forth. I think our teams traded a goal or two. I can't even be sure. All I remember was a grudge match with No. 14. This was the last time we would face off, so every ball between us was fought for to the teeth.

At some point in the second half, our goalkeeper punted out a high-arcing looper that descended on the two of us seemingly in slow motion. No. 14 was a good 3 inches taller than me; she was the big, sturdy type of midfielder. I was one of the little scrappy ones, so I knew I had to get a jump on her if I was to win this one. I leaped up out of my Copa Mundials, using every muscle I had in my 17-year-old body, thrusting my elbows back behind me, fists clenched as I stretched my forehead towards the ball.

As it struck my hairline, I remember a sound like a suction cup popping and an immediate sharp sting, but when I landed back on the ground, I realized it wasn't in my head. I grabbed my right elbow, which was radiating pain down to my fingers. I pulled my hand off the source and looked at my fingers, covered in blood. I whirled around to see the mighty body of No. 14 bent over at the waist, both hands to her face. I looked at her, confused.

"Coach … Coach … Coach!" she yelled through two palms pressed against her mouth, with her elbows resting on her knees for support. Finally, she lifted her chest, wide eyes coming up to meet mine that were riveted on the situation. As she pulled her two cupped hands away from her mouth, blood spilled onto the green grass. In her hand, two teeth.

That was the end of my rivalry with No. 14. She and I (and her teeth in a glass of milk to preserve them) were carted off to the hospital. We arrived, still in opposing uniforms -- her with front teeth missing and me with a gash on my elbow and a medical chart reading "human bite."

I can only imagine what the doctor thought, standing there staring at us both, but I'll bet if she ever has a daughter who grows up to play soccer in high school, she'll invest in a mouth guard.

It's not just orange slices and ponytails, anymore.

Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at marybuckheit@hotmail.com.