With only two returning Grade 12s from last year’s Sr Boys Soccer team, it was expected that the team would be in rebuilding mode for this past season. Yet, if the recent provincial championships in Nakusp were any indication of the success of the season, someone forgot to tell the team that age is only a number: the boys managed to come away with five consecutive wins, securing their sixth provincial championship in the last six years.
Fresh off the ten-hour bus ride, the team opened up their tournament with a convincing 10–1 victory against the hosts, Naksup Secondary. An early start—capped off by Grade 11 Mackenzie Cole’s phenomenal five goal first half—allowed coach Justin Parish to substitute players frequently, simultaneously letting the sleep-deprived players find their legs, while also resting up for the afternoon’s game against a respectable Kelowna Christian squad. Once again, the team was more than up for the task. Two early contributions from Grade 10 Pierce Colpman and Grade 12 co-captain Francis Mbroh aided the side to a comfortable 3–1 victory. Julian Dosanjh was named the game’s MVP for his role in eliminating many of Kelowna Christian’s offensive threats.
With two wins on the first day, the team was set up to play Langley Christian, who also carried an identical record. As only the top team in each pool advances to be in contention for a medal, this game was of particular magnitude—the victor would ensure their place in the semi final, while the loser would have to settle for a place in the consolation round. Consistent with the theme of the tournament, the boys started quickly; once again, Mbroh dashed down the wing, beating two players before effortlessly depositing the ball behind the goalkeeper for the first goal of the game. The team never looked back, en route to a 5–0 victory, with Grade 11 standout midfielder Geoffrey Harper taking the game MVP honours.
With three wins to their credit, the boys moved on to the semi-finals, where they faced St. Ann’s. While GNS certainly has a storied soccer history, this game may be remembered as one of the most exciting matches ever played. With the boys up 2–0 early on, St. Ann’s managed to sneak in a late goal right before halftime, meaning that the game was still up for grabs in the second half. St. Ann’s came out with a much better start in the final 35 minutes, and GNS found themselves down 3–2. At this point, one would imagine that a team composed largely of Grade 10s and 11s, lacking the previous provincial experience of other teams, would decide to play out the rest of the game, and then head back to the hotel. The boys banded together, and managed to push back at St. Ann’s in the final ten minutes. Just when it seemed that their attempts would prove futile, Cole succeeded in drawing a penalty-kick, which he converted in the dying seconds of the match.
Now off to overtime, the boys knew that the game was within their grasp. However, St. Ann’s believed this too; once again, they came out strongly, and managed to score just minutes into the first half of overtime. At this point, the team knew that they hadn’t come this far just to give up: for the next 12 minutes, the team gave it all they had. Once again, just as overtime was set to expire, Cole picked up an errant pass inside St. Ann’s territory, and managed to slot it home to tie the match, 4–4.
When the final whistle blew, it was off to penalties. The four penalties from the GNS side were clinically slotted into various corners of the net, while keeper and co-captain Chris Wieczorek made two saves to ensure a 4–3 victory in the shootout. Mbroh was recognized as the MVP for his brilliant display in the midfield, along with his two assists on the game. Exhilarated, and more than exhausted, the team quickly readied themselves for the finals, which took place at noon the next day.
Facing perennial powerhouse Immaculata as a final challenge, the team displayed a quiet confidence that had epitomized much of their work throughout the year. Certainly, this game would be the toughest of the tournament, and undoubtedly one of the most difficult of the year. In what was one of the hardest fought finals in recent memory, GNS managed to come out on top. Mbroh beat two Immaculata players late in the first half, and then converted a stunning strike from distance to put GNS up 1–0 at the half. The second half was a defensive masterpiece: Wieczorek saved a penalty, the only real chance Immaculata had, while the back four of Liam Stanley, Brennig Prevost, Max Stewart, and Rodrigo Chavez, in combination with the rest of the team, foiled the few remaining Immaculata attempts. Playing possession soccer, the team deprived their opponents of the ball, while also coming close to scoring a second goal on multiple occasions.
As it turned out, GNS would only need the one goal. As time expired in the second half, all that was left to do was hand out the awards. Cole was awarded both the golden boot, for most goals scored in the tournament, and the overall tournament MVP—a tremendous honour for a player only in Grade 11. Ultimately, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the team still managed to set a brilliant standard of play, surpassing virtually all of their expectations from the beginning of the season. Certainly, a third place finish in the combined ‘AA’/’AAA’ Victoria league, and a first place finish at the ‘A’ island championships, in combination with the provincial victory, amounts to a very successful season. With only four players not returning for next season, the team seems poised to make another run at provincial glory; albeit, hopefully in a location slightly closer to home!
by Chris Wieczorek, a member of the GNS Marketing and Communications Team
Photos by Janet Wieczorek