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Girls high school soccer is back: can Coquitlam's Centennial Centaurs become a dynasty?

Can the Centennial Centaurs senior girls soccer team pick up its championship ways after the pandemic pause?

The Centennial Centaurs senior girls soccer team should be a dynasty, says its coach, Larry Moro.

But a global pandemic got in the way.

Now that the public health crisis is relenting, it’s time to get back to winning, says Moro.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Centaurs won two provincial championships in a row and had just embarked on its quest for a third when COVID-19 restrictions cancelled all high school sports in March 2020, until last September.

“We believe COVID left medals on the table for us,” Moro said. “You’re looking at a missed opportunity to win two more championships.”

With the team able to play again, reigniting that winning feeling isn’t as simple as getting back on the pitch and picking up where it had left off.

Only one starting player remains from the 2019 side that defeated Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons 2–1 in overtime to win its second straight provincial championship.

So it’s only fitting that Moro look to that player, Grade 12 centre back Jessica Fong, to be the Centaurs’ captain, responsible for passing on the team’s culture of excellence to the next generation.

Because it’s that culture that brings the disparate group of players together, Moro believes, makes them feel responsible for each other and the team’s success.

“It’s about the way we conduct ourselves, how we play as a team  and including everybody,” Moro said.

Fong is confident she’s up to the challenge.

“I have to think about what I learned from the older players,” she said. “A lot of our culture is also about having a competitive mindset.”

While most of the Centaurs’ players have been able to maintain their competitive edge with their club teams that continued training and playing matches through much of the pandemic pause on high school sports, coming together again to represent their school is special said Grade 11 striker Sarah Caravatta, whose sister Jessica, was part of the 2019 championship team.

“It’s so great for school spirit,” Caravatta said, adding without extracurricular activities like sports, drama or clubs, students didn’t have much to look forward to each day other than the conclusion of classes.

That spirit will get an extra boost this season as the Centaurs will play on its own new turf field right next to the school. The team hasn’t had a proper home field for 20 years, travelling down to Coquitlam Town Centre for its home matches.

For Moro, that means no more schlepping the big bag of balls across town, organizing car pools for players and ensuring they can leave classes early enough to make it down there in time for kickoff.

For the players, it means more of their friends will be able to watch them play and share in their successes.

“I can’t wait to play on it,” said Fong.

Of course, that increased visibility to their peers comes with a little added pressure, said Grade 11 centre midfielder Dani Cass.

But, she added quickly, “It brings out the best in all of us.”

And that’s like music to Moro’s ears.

“We’re going to do everything we can to reach our goals,” he said.

Here’s how the rest of the teams stack up:

Riverside Rapids

The Riverside Rapids reached provincials in the two seasons before high school sports was shut down for two years by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether the team will be able to reprise that success is still unknown, said coach Kenny Jamieson.

The Rapids’ core group of seniors — defenders Cassie Robinson and Emily Wezeman, along with forward Kate Glennie — were in Grade 9 when girls high school soccer last convened a season.

The rest of the roster had to make due with weekly group activities that Jamieson said involved “everything but soccer.”

He said the players “really seemed to enjoy and appreciate the chance to stay connected as a group,” and that gives him hope they’ll be able to come together as a unit when games are on the line.

“I think we will be a hard-working group,” Jamieson said. “Through what we have seen during our tryouts and first few practices we have a very enthusiastic group and we are hopeful that will carry over onto the field.”

Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils

The seniors at Dr. Charles Best are hungry for success, said Blue Devils coach Olivia Fournier.

After two years away, players are excited to be back on the pitch with their schoolmates, even though most stayed active with their club teams during the COVID hiatus.

“High school soccer is special in very different ways from the club game,” Fournier said. “There’s definitely a general sense of excitement from the players.”

Fournier said the maturity and resilience of a senior squad should serve the Blue Devils well in a season otherwise filled with unknowns, adding results will come from hard work “in each and every game.”

Gleneagle Talons

Talons’ coach Roberto Ramogida said pulling together a team after two years off presented a bit of a challenge.

At first.

But once word got out around school, he said, a group of “positive, eager and ready to have fun” seniors and juniors is ready to hit the pitch.

Leading the charge will be defenders Grace Tognotti and Simran Chen.

Ramogida said the two players complement each other on the back line and will be good role models for the team’s younger members.

“Every coach dreams of having two defensive players like them,” he said.

Mackenzie Roebotham anchors the midfield, while Sierra Haaksma’s speed and skill will drive Gleneagle’s offence.

Still, Ramogida said, the team knows it has its work cut out for it in the highly competitive Fraser North league.

“I am hopeful that as an underdog, we will be able to compete and surprise some of our competition,” he said. “Anything can happen.”

Port Moody Blues

The Port Moody Blues are rebuilding, said coach Edward Roberts.

But the task is made especially challenging because there’s no foundation from the two seasons lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It “feels a bit like starting from scratch,” he said.

With many of the young Blues new to high school soccer, Roberts said he’ll look to senior Monica Mihailescu to show the way with her leadership skills and keeper Paisley Shackelford to keep everyone centered with her calm demeanour.

Vienna Gabel will also be there to help the team get its feet underneath them.

“Our measure of success will just be the girls enjoying their season and having fun,” Roberts said.

Heritage Woods Kodiaks

The coming season is going to be a bit of a puzzle for Kodiaks’ coach Julie French.

Not only will she have to re-energize players that haven’t been together on the pitch for two seasons, she also has to figure out where each fits in and the role they’ll take on.

But, French said, the players’ eagerness to get going bodes well.

“We have a hard-working group that is easy to get along with and spend time with,” she said.

French said it will be the leadership of keepers Georgia Hinrichs and Gbemi Sowemimo that will set the team’s tone and drive it toward the goal of having fun and developing cohesively as teammates.

Terry Fox Ravens

Ravens’ coaches Nicole Hadden and Jen Dalyrmple said they’ve had their work cut out for them rebuilding the senior girls team after two years on the sidelines because of the pandemic.

The time away has severed many players’ connections to their school’s sporting culture as they focused their efforts on their club teams that still managed to maintain some level of activity and cohesion.

Still, Hadden and Dalyrmple report, interest has been strong for the junior team which gives them hope for the future as they move up to Grades 11 and 12.

To spur their interest, some will even likely get playing time on the senior squad.