CHICAGO — On May 12, the lives of 16 young women changed forever.

After long months of training, sweating and working hard, the Little Village Lawndale High School women’s sophomore soccer team celebrated an undefeated, unscored-on season and headed into the playoffs. The success, drive and desire that the “Lady Phoenix” team encountered throughout the season was due to the pride these young women have in themselves, their school and their community.

The moment these girls stepped into tryouts, coaches Claudia Mosqueda and Ruben Morado made their expectations clear. The young athletes gained many skills and learned many lessons in responsibility, confidence, determination and teamwork.

“Being on a team is a lot of responsibility because you can’t slack off in school or else you will get kicked off the team,” said Alejandra Amezcua, who plays defense.

“In order to be good you have to try, even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done,” said Elizabeth Uriostegui, also on defense. “We all grew together and became the best we could.”

Being on the team “is hard work, but never impossible,” said Jacquelin Parra, a forward.

Marielu Villa, a midfielder, pointed out, “Never give up, always try your best.”

“There is no ‘I’ in team,” said team captain Veronica Gonzalez, who also plays a midfield position.

Zitlali Rosado, another defensive player, said her best memory was receiving her gray and orange jersey, No. 12.

As the season ended, the girls advanced to quarterfinals, semifinals and finally to the citywide championship. Their success made a huge impact in their lives as well as the entire community. The Little Village Lawndale High School is only two years old.

As the women were getting ready to take the field on their first playoff game, they gathered in the school’s sundial. The sundial is the most sacred space on campus. It pays tribute to the 14 community members who led a hunger strike demanding that the school be built. The girls knew that their performance on the soccer field not only represented their personal struggle, but the struggle of the hunger strikers too.

Winning their games against two prominent Chicago schools, these young athletes, growing up in La Villita (Little Village) and North Lawndale, proved that their school is no less deserving of prominence. Many saw these victories as personal accomplishments.

Although the Lady Phoenix did not take first place, they are champions in the eyes of their community and viewed as role models who now carry themselves with dignity and respect.

After a perfect season, two great playoff games, an amazing final game ending in kickoffs, and the other team narrowly winning, team member Elsie Dominguez summed up their collective sentiment. “Playing soccer isn’t always about winning, but trying your best,” she said.

Erika Ortiz, a forward, agreed. “It is not all about winning, but meeting new people and having fun.”

The girls surprised and impressed many, their coaches said. They gave a lot to their school and have grown so much in return. As young student athletes they managed schoolwork, family, and being a teenager. The players felt that being on the team was a major commitment.

“If it was easy, everyone would be out here,” said coach Morado time and time again.

“No one scored on me. For the first time I was considered a champion,” said goalie Enit Rodriguez.

“My favorite moment was when we were about to start our games, all the girls were united as one,” said Shirley Vega, who plays defense.

Coach Claudia Mosqueda, a longtime resident of Little Village, concluded the season by telling the girls: “You have made me so proud. It is an honor to be amongst such great young women. This is the moment that the people in our community fought for, moments of pride and success. Ten years from now do not become someone who once played soccer. Ten years from now, be proud to be a soccer player. You all have great talent. Do not let it go to waste.”