HULL — Jess Delaney, goalkeeper for the Field4Hull team, stood in front of the net on Nantasket Beach, gazed up at the heavens, and predicted a victory in the championship game of the high school girls’ division of the recent Boston Beach Soccer Tournament.
“We’re going to win it for Em,” said the 17-year-old Delaney. “Guaranteed.”
On Oct. 28, 2016, Emma Ryan, an honor roll student and three-sport athlete, was playing soccer for Hull High School. She went to bed that night and never woke up. She was 15 years old, dead of natural causes.
Her sister, Caitlin, 17, the Hull High School athlete of the year, wasn’t about to lose a charity tournament for her younger sibling.
“Yeah, we were going to do it for her,” said Caitlin. “That was our mind-set.”
It didn’t matter that the opponent, Galway Rovers, a younger team of South Shore teenagers, had already defeated them in the two-day round-robin tournament.
The Hull players had Emma’s name and her number 20 emblazoned on the front of their shirts, and they had love in their hearts.
The tournament raised several thousand dollars for the Emma Ryan Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Two hundred fifty players competed for 28 teams. The rules were different from regular soccer. Teams played five-on-five on four shortened fields, with conditions varying according to the tide. Each half was 12 minutes, and there was no offsides, which resulted in some high-scoring games. Dribbling was difficult on the sand, so there were many passes in the air.
Goalies had it the toughest.
“It’s a lot of fun, but when you get sprayed with sand, it feels bad,” said Lochlan Steinmeier, 11, a goalie for the Sandsharks. “It hurts, and sometimes it gets in your mouth.”
In some respects, it was a show of strength for soccer in old baseball territory. Few know that baseball history was made in Hull on Sept. 2, 1880, when two Boston teams competed in the first night baseball game, playing to a 16-16 tie.
During the beach tournament, a father and son played Wiffleball while they were waiting for the next soccer game. Nearby, a few Red Sox fans complained about the tournament taking up too much real estate.
Most of the kids playing in the tournament wanted nothing to do with hardball.
“Baseball?” said Jason Job, 12, of Marlborough. “No, no. I don’t play baseball. I think it’s boring. Soccer is more exciting.”
Although there were many close championship games, none was as emotional as the Field4Hull-Galway Rovers final. And no one played better than Caitlin Ryan, who scored three times. Playing barefoot, with her ponytail bobbing back and forth like a metronome, she dominated in her team’s 5-3 victory.
“It was very special,” said an emotional Caitlin, who plans to play soccer for Franklin Pierce in the fall. “There are not really words to describe it. I think about [Emma] every day and every moment.”
The Ryan Fund awarded $5,000 in scholarships to five Hull High School seniors, and it hopes to help other Hull organizations as well.
For the Ryan family, the tournament was healing. Emma’s youngest sister Fallon, 10, was dancing with a huge smile during warm-ups.
Emma’s mother, Kerrie Ryan, said, “I am feeling the love today and all the support from my community of Hull and many other clubs to honor Emma.”
Ryan still grapples with unanswered questions about Emma’s death.
“They found nothing abnormal,” she said. “Her autopsy states cardiopulmonary arrest. She stopped breathing, her heart stopped beating.
“She had the biggest heart. A smile that would light up the room. She was kind to everybody and a friend to all.
“I honestly feel like she was there with us and enjoying every moment of it. Her spirit was there for sure.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.