"The team we're playing this weekend is one that beat us last year," coach Paul Cromwell warns the Eastern Market Express soccer team. Its members are all women between 20 and 40, dressed in sweatsuits and huddled in the basement of a vacant church on Capitol Hill for one of the team's twice-a-week practice sessions. Fired by the desire to beat their old adversaries, the Ms. Fits of Reston, the women, under Cromwell's direction, run circles around the room, do calisthenics on the floor and even bounce soccer balls off one another's heads. One of the members bursts in late: She had to wait for her husband to get home from work to take over with the kids, and he was late, she tells a teammate.
"I was so furious," she says. "All day I do things for others. This is something I do for me."
The Eastern Market Express, formed about a year ago by some women living on Capitol Hill, already has two seasons of play under its belt. At this season's first game, the women are excited but apprehensive.
"This is one of two teams we lost to last season," says Lois Burke, gulping some water from a jug on the bleachers at the team's home field at Bolling Air Force Base. Burke, a mother of two, says that one of the things she likes about the team is that you get to be friends with people whose lifestyles aren't exactly like yours -- "people who aren't married and don't have kids the same age as yours." y
Burke first got interested in soccer by watching the Dip games.
"It looked like fun," she says. "I had never played sports, but it looked like something I could do. For many of us this is the first time playing on any kind of team. When we were in high school, women who did sports were weird . . . Some of the spouses and friends of our team started a men's team last summer. I had to talk my husband into it, but now he loves it."
"Let's go, Louise!" shout the players on the sidelines as Louise Moody rushes toward the Reston team's goal.
"Beautiful play!" approves Cromwell as Moody scores, making it Eastern Market Express 1, Ms. Fits 0. Moody's 15-month-old son, Elliott, playing on the side of the field with his father, hugs a soccer ball.
For soccer purposes, the Washington Area Women's Soccer League lumps the District with Virginia, Cromwell explains during a slack moment in the game. There are three divisions of women's teams in the league, and the Eastern Market Express is in the third, or bottom, division. l
"But if we come in first in our division this season, which we have a good chance of doing -- we'll move up," says Cromwell, who, in real life, is an official of HEW. Before taking on the Eastern Market Express last year, Cromwell coached kids' soccer teams for four years, but he says he prefers coaching the women. Although he has great respect for the women's ability, he won't let them play against men's teams.
"There are men who get upset when they get beaten by women -- then they get rough," says Cromwell. "And women playing among themselves are a lot more competitive. At first, women are overly polite. That doesn't have too much to do with the fact that they're women, but with the fact that women of this age group don't have much experience with competitive sports. I think I have one player who played in college."
The Ms. Fits goalie is now lying down in front of the goal, her orange uniform splattered with mud. But in spite of her efforts, the green-uniformed Eastern Market team socres again, and by the end of the 45-minute half the score is 2-0.
"Who shall we make a goalie?" asks Cromwell. "Lorna is getting pretty lonesome up there."
When the second half begins, Lorna Thorpe, who joined the team after seeing a notice in a neighborhood newspaper, becomes a wing, while Patsy Chappelear does a stint as goalie. But all the action is at the other end. Connie Broadstone bounces the ball off her kneecap to Julie Barrow, who kicks in the third goal.
"You'll have to take me out -- I'm gone," Barrow calls to Cromwell.
Carol Bolender, a military wife who started playing soccer i Hawaii about three years ago, peels off her jacket and prepares to go in for Barrow. "Soccer teaches you how to have fun with other women," says Bolender."Baseball is more of an individual sport. Soccer you play as a team."
The green team just misses making another goal, and Beverly Cannizzaro, a Montessori school teacher who plays soccer both for "the pleasure of working with other women and for the workout," shouts encouragement from the sidelines. w
"Good try! Keep going!" she yells. "You're all right."
The encouragement works and, just before the game ends, the Eastern Market team has scored another goal -- making it a 4-0 victory.
There are a few shouts of "Yeah, green!" and a short peptalk from Cromwell, who reminds the team of a practice the next morning -- Sunday -- at 9:30. Then some of the women retire to a car to drink some cold beer someone has had the foresight to bring.
"The first soccer game I ever saw I was participating in," says Connie Broadstone, a real-estate agent and mother of two. "I almost got back in the car when I went to the first practice and he said we were going to do exercises. Then he made us run the length of a soccer field. Not too many of us made it the first time, but we've come a long way."