You can harass them about "High School Musical," mock an occasional slip-up on the field or tease them about their looks or height — as some rowdy Bonneville High male fans did — and East's soccer players don't flinch.
But the Leopards have their limits as the Lakers found out on Thursday.
"Do not make fun of our sign," warned East forward Christine Isabella.
The Leopards thought they heard some Bonneville players do just that before the game and they used that alleged diss — whether intended or not — as motivation in their 4-2 win in the 4A quarterfinals on Thursday.
The sign above the berm behind the East goal carries significant emotional meaning for the Leopards, who believe it gave them extra-home-field advantage in the first two rounds. It reads: "Kernodle's Hill (Coach K)" in honor of their late coach, Mike Kernodle, who passed away in March from a rare liver disease.
"We had him with us today," Isabella said.
Isabella was one of four Leopards — Saralynn Drury, Tessa Nicolaides and Lauren Porter were the others — who scored to help East (14-3) qualify for a semifinal matchup with Highland next Tuesday at Juan Diego. Three of the goals came just below the sign.
East's new coach, Rudy Schenk, said hosting the first two playoff games was a big bonus — and not just because it's a small field that takes some getting used to by visiting teams. He also believes the Leopards had some unseen help.
"It's our field, and I think the ghost of Kernodle still lives here," he said. "I think we got a little bit of angels-in-the-outfield kind of help maybe on a couple of those goals. It looked to me like the keeper might have had them, but we were fortunate."
Isabella was the first Leopard to strike. In the fifth minute, she found herself between a pair of Lakers and at a somewhat awkward angle. Somehow she extended her leg and tapped the ball with the tip of her cleat, sending it to the top of the net.
"I just barely got my toe on it," she said. "It was definitely a toe poke, but it worked."
The Leopards added to their lead a few minutes later when the ball bounced over the Laker defenders to Saralynn Drury, who chipped it over the goalie for a 2-0 East lead.
Bonneville seemed to come to life after that, responding with a goal of its own when Roxie McFarland fired a shot in off a free kick. Shortly after that, East's Tessa Nicolaides boosted East's edge to two again with a nice shot. The Lakers, however, answered again with an Emily Freshman blast from 25 yards out. The frenetic first half ended with the Leopards up 3-2.
The Lakers (13-3-1) nearly knotted, but freshman Jaiden Thornock trickled a tough shot off the post. The Leopards added a security goal from Lauren Porter a few minutes later.
Schenk said he asked his girls to "Give me all you've got" in the second half. They responded, thwarting Bonneville with a physical and aggressive defensive effort.