By the spring of 2004, JR and I were sure that Whitley and Courtney had outgrown soccer in Bedford. They needed more technical coaching and stiffer competition if they were to continue to improve. That June, we took them to tryouts for the nearest travel club team, Bloomington Cutters. Whit was up for a spot on the U12s. The club's Director of Coaching back then was a guy named Sean Phillips. Sean knew our girls from soccer camps and rec league. The U12 roster was full from the previous season, but he made the cuts and gave Whitley a spot. Courtney's U11s were another story. In 2004, U11 was the youngest age group for travel. They play 8v8 and I'm not sure 8 girls even showed up for tryouts. People made phone calls and sent emails and scrounged up enough girls to put a team together. Courtney did not know a soul on that team.
Training started in August. Courtney's team was coached by Elena Veach, an high school English teacher and assistant coach of a very successful high school team. The girls on that team came from a wide range of soccer backgrounds - some had played since they were four years old; others were only at the beginning of their careers. What they lacked in skill and experience, they made up for in sweetness and fun. Emma, Lilly, Anna,Sarah, Mia, Hannah, Alex, Zoe, Willa, Asia, Olivia. And their parents - the fruit did not fall far from the tree - in a totally good way. The parents were so nice. Sometimes, people from Bloomingon make a big deal about people from Bedford - in a totally bad way.
The fall season for Elena's team was kind of ugly, but she was committed to getting them better, to making them a team and to getting the best out of everyone. She coached them like she meant it. No matter how bad they got slaughtered on Saturday, she worked them out like champs on Monday. Elena never lowered her expectations.
The spring season came, and the team started training and playing matches again. But this season was different. Elena's team was winning. Elena got it out of them. The team she created transcended their own limitations.
Elena Veach reinvented Courtney Crane. Elena made Coutney believe in herself. She instilled a will and desire to find the net into the little girl with braids. Tonight, Courtney Crane played her first high school varsity soccer match. Thank you, Elena.
Elena Veach died Saturday. I don't think she was thirty years old. She leaves behind a husband, a toddler and a newborn son.