We Are the Wildcats - Siobhan Vivian



By Ada Limón

I like the lady horses best,

how they make it all look easy,

like running 40 miles per hour

is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.

I like their lady horse swagger,

after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!

But mainly, let’s be honest, I like

that they’re ladies. As if this big

dangerous animal is also a part of me,

that somewhere inside the delicate

skin of my body, there pumps

an 8-pound female horse heart,

giant with power, heavy with blood.

Don’t you want to believe it?

Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see

the huge genius machine

that thinks, no, it knows,

it’s going to come in first.

It is tradition that the fifth and final day of tryouts for the Wildcats’ varsity girls field hockey team be the most grueling of all. Though, real talk? It’s not like the others were a walk in the park. Roughly half the girls arrive to the field with a vague sense of what’s coming. The rest show up clueless. But there’s no telling the two groups apart because—knowing or not—this is it. Today is everyone’s last chance.

The girls mill around on the sidelines, taping up their sticks, their wrists, their ankles, cinching loose tank tops tight with little knots at their backs, rinsing out yesterday’s nasty from their mouth guards with squeeze bottles of icy water. It’s early enough that the air remains somewhat cool and the turf looks almost like real grass, with indifferent dewdrops clinging to blades of bright green plastic.

Summer break is just about over. Come Monday, a new school year begins. There is much the girls could discuss—first-day outfits, class schedules, summer gossip—but not a lot of chitchat happens, because Coach doesn’t want chitchat. He wants focus. And there’s really no need for team bonding yet because there is no team. Every varsity spot is up for grabs. Even girls who lettered last year aren’t safe. Even the ones who bled to bring home a second-place trophy at states could be cut.

Maybe should be cut.

At eight o’clock, a velvety knell rings out from the upper school’s bell tower. With it, heads collectively swivel, ponytails swish. Every eye is on Coach as he pushes open the heavy metal doors of the athletic wing and stalks toward them, clipboard in the crook of his arm, a can of Red Bull in hand, a baseball hat pulled down low over his shaggy blond curls.

Both the JV and freshman coaches nip at Coach’s heels. They are two much older and rounder versions of Coach, dads essentially, embarrassingly eager to assist him today. Dark wounds of sweat already bleed through their T-shirts.

The girls need no instruction. They quickly circle up and begin to stretch, clapping a slow-and-steady pulse for each position change. As they press and lean through lingering soreness, they watch-but-don’t-watch Coach inspect his field. Trying to gauge his mood. Sense what he might be thinking. They get only reflections of their own longing in his mirrored sunglass lenses.

Some girls spent the past summer secretly worried—rightfully so—that Coach would not be returning to West Essex this year. There is always the fear he will leave them for some better opportunity. He’s honestly too good to coach at the high school level, and especially a girls team. The very least they can do is win for him. Whether his decision to come back was because of them or in spite of them didn’t much matter. He came back. Thank God.

Coach lifts a silver whistle to his lips.

Warm-ups begin. Always the same circuit. A brisk mile run around the field’s perimeter. Then twenty-five push-ups. Then twenty-five crunches. Then twenty-five scissors. And lastly, a set of suicide sprints to lace the lines of the pitch.

It is now 8:30 a.m. Their hearts warm with blood, lungs flush with oxygen, the girls fetch their sticks and listen for Coach to call a skill drill. They gamely hope he goes with Tic-Tac-Toe or maybe Slalom, something chill to start things off. Instead, he cups his hands and bellows, “Figure Eights!”

This is the first sign they are in for it.

The other two coaches rush to set up cones, dotting the field with one for each player. Then, at Coach’s next whistle, the girls hitch forward at their hips and begin pushing their orange balls with their stick blades in a tight, controlled infinity loop. Over and over they dance this twirl, eyes pinned on those orange balls to steady the spinning world, their abs and thighs and asses all fires stoked white-hot.

Fifteen grueling