For many of the players on the Riverside Rapids’ senior boys soccer team, last Wednesday’s stunning victory over top-ranked Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils in the Fraser North Zone championship final was a case of déja vu.
All but four of them were part of the junior team in 2019 that pulled a similar upset, the first time the younger Port Coquitlam side had ever beaten their rivals up Mariner Way.
The most recent triumph, 2-1 in penalty kicks, launches the Rapids into the BC High School Senior Boys Soccer Provincials as the top seed of the three Tri-City teams that have advanced to the championship tournament that begins Nov. 25 at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex West.
Best will also be there, gunning for its sixth provincial banner.
They’ll be joined by another upstart, the Centennial Centaurs, which qualified for the first time in eight years with a 3–2 win over the Heritage Woods Kodiaks in the match to decide the third-place finisher in Fraser North.
Riverside co-coaches Mark Colligan and Tim Burke said the Rapids’ win over Best is a huge confidence-builder heading to provincials as players weathered everything the Blue Devils threw their way physically that sent four of them to ground with injuries. That necessitated moving some players into unfamiliar positions and calling others off the bench.
“As coaches, we have confidence in being able to put our players in multiple positions and know they will perform great,” Colligan and Burke said. “As players, they know and see that confidence we have in them and they are willing to perform anywhere.”
More importantly, added the bench bosses, the players were able to harness the emotion that can come from tough physical play.
“Our team held their cool,” said Colligan and Burke. “We preach the philosophy to play with emotion but don’t be emotional.”
Harnessing that energy will be a key to success in Burnaby said the coaches.
“When it comes to provincial competition you will face the best of the best. If any team shows up and doesn’t believe they can win it all, they have already lost.”
Such self-belief also propels the Centaurs, which won two matches in the Fraser North tournament on penalty kicks and came from behind in its triumph over Heritage Woods.
“Our work ethic has been our trademark from the beginning of the season,” said Centennial coach Kevin Comeau. “Now that we have proven we can win some close games against some very tough teams, I feel as though we have gained some valuable experience, while also surprising some teams with our skill and tenacity.”
Comeau said his side gelled through the season as players shook off the rust from more than a year away from the pitch because of COVID-19 public health restrictions that cancelled the 2020 high school soccer season.
“At the beginning of the season, I was a little unsure of how we would fare,” admitted Comeau. “But looking at us now, our group has really… become a cohesive unit.”
That cohesion will be tested in Burnaby.
But, said Comeau, players are determined to make their mark for the school where the boys program has long been overshadowed by the highly successful girls team that’s coming off successive provincial championships.
“Boys teams have often been the forgotten bunch,” Comeau said. “But this year out team was determined to show our school and others that we are a formidable squad.”
As for the Blue Devils, despite the setback at the Zone playoffs, head coach Dave Jones isn’t panicking.
Rather, Jones said, he expects players will use the loss as fuel.
“The boys were gutted from the loss and angry for letting this opportunity slip away,” he said. “Motivation to redeem themselves is high.”
Jones said the time off prior to the start of provincials will allow his side to work on set pieces and penalty kicks, the elements of their game that failed them against Riverside. Otherwise, he’s happy with the way the team has come together, especially the emergence of Grade 11 player Cole Toupin who anchored the defence for much of the season when senior Ryan Head was injured.
Now that Head is back, Toupin has been able to tap into his offensive abilities, making the Blue Devils an even more formidable threat to redeem its eighth place finish at the 2019 provincials.
But, as always, emotion and intangibles will play a role, Jones said.
“Making sure the boys keep their composure and show discipline when referee calls go agains them or unlucky situation happen” will be critical, Jones said, adding, “A little luck never hurts.”