United squad wins soccer gold at World Masters Games

THEY'D gone all the way to Turin, Italy for this and now they were leading in the 35-plus women's soccer championship final at the World Masters Games and North Vancouver's Terri Newell was not interested in giving up the gold.

"Once you go up 1-0 you try not to go on your heels but it gets a little sketchy then," she said, back on the North Shore and rehashing the final. "As a defender then I'm just concentrating on not making a mistake."

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The team was Meralomas United, a group of masters players from around the Lower Mainland who set their sights on winning gold at the Games. The roster included North Shore players Newell, Liz Palmer, Laura Acutt, Kimberly Hobbs and Gretchen McLenen, as well as Richmond's Maleena Pardhan, owner of North Vancouver's Macey's Sports.

Newell, at 48, was the second oldest player on the team, pipped by a couple of years by her Lynn Valley neighbour Hobbs.

"She was the old-timer, I've got to throw her under the bus," said Newell with a laugh. "I was young, comparatively speaking."

Newell certainly looked like a spry youngster on the goal that gave the team a 1-0 lead over the Canadian All Reds, an Ontario team, in the final. Moving up from her position on defence, Newell took a short pass on a corner quick and sent in a cross that was headed home by Burnaby's Jemma Scoble. Then it was time to defend for several nervous moments in the amped-up intensity of a 60-minute game.

"A mistake can cost you going the other way pretty quickly. Being up 1-0 is sometimes difficult to hang on to," said Newell, a player who has hit the pitch for every season since taking up the sport at the age of seven, making stops at provincial teams and a year with the UBC Thunderbirds along the way.

Back in Italy the whistle finally blew and the World Games gold was theirs. For Newell it was actually her second such title, the first coming 12 years ago in Melbourne with the same club. For many of her teammates, however, it was a glorious first.

"They were really fixated on it and in tears when they got their medals," she said. "I'm a little bit older and a little mellower but it was a very satisfying feeling. It felt really good."

Newell admitted that the World Masters Games is not, in fact, a best-of-the-best-of-thebest tournament. A lot of the teams were from Canada, a country that has really embraced the globetrotting masters sport lifestyle. There are masters teams in the local Vancouver league that can top Meralomas on the right day too. That all didn't matter, however, to the women who made the effort to get themselves to Italy and challenge for the crown.

"Just playing soccer in Italy was really awesome," said Newell. "I've been playing soccer since I was seven and we didn't always have a soccer culture in Canada so it was pretty cool playing soccer in Italy."

And she did come home with a shiny piece of gold hanging around her neck.

"I've been showing it off at work, showing my neighbours, generally just feeling pretty good about myself," she said. "People ask about the trip and I say, 'Oh, I just happen to have this in my pocket.' I have some friends who are on holidays right now so I've got to accidentally keep it in my pocket for a couple of days longer."

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