The Centennial Centaurs senior girls soccer team turned a life lesson from the classroom into their second consecutive AAA provincial championship.
Centennial beat the Fleetwood Park Dragons 2-1 in overtime Friday at the Cloverdale Athletic Park. The opponent and heart-stopping result were a reprise of last year’s final when the Centaurs won their first provincial championship in 18 years, also in overtime, by a 1-0 score.
Getting their second in as many years was the goal right from the season’s get-go, said Centennial coach Larry Moro.
To drive that point home he lugged the freshly-engraved provincial trophy into the team’s first meeting where he talked about resilience and perseverance, then showed his players no team had managed to get their name on the chalice’s 15-year history twice in a row.
Then Moro showed them the full two-minute version of Nike’s commercial to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Just Do It motto with blackballed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The ad’s tagline of “It’s only crazy until you do it” was immediately adopted by the Centaurs as their motto for the season.
“You hope as a teacher they are learning life lessons,” Moro said. “They’re using skills here of perseverance and resiliency and teamwork that will take them through their lives.”
The Centaurs players needed to draw upon all of those against a scrappy Fleetwood team that was making its sixth consecutive appearance in the AAA final.
While Centennial’s gifted forwards carried the play from the opening whistle, the Dragons’ dogged defence stifled any creativity and withered every scoring opportunity into largely harmless shots at Fleetwood keeper Soninka Nandha.
Then, in one of the Dragons’ only forays into the Centaurs’ end, they were able to exploit a breakdown in communication by Centennial’s defenders as Klera Ramilo put Fleetwood up, 1-0.
“We were too lax on marking,” Moro said. “Nobody talked and we all got confused.”
Centennial quickly renewed its assault on Fleetwood’s half of the ptich, and, shortly after the teams took a mandated water break because of the day’s heat and sunshine, Avery Tulloch ripped a rope into the far left side of the net to get them back on even terms.
It was critical moment, Moro said.
“It was huge to tie it up quickly,” he said. “It gave us confidence again.”
What the goal didn’t do, though, was open the floodgates.
Centennial’s Raegan Mackenzie just missed connecting on a header that was set up by Grade 12 forward Kiara Buono in the 35th minute, but otherwise Fleetwood’s smothering defence continued undaunted.
With nothing decided in regulation, the teams headed into extra time for the second straight year.
Moro said that played into Centennial’s favour.
“You could tell they were tiring out and we were getting more space,” he said. “We were just waiting to exploit that.”
Early in the first 10-minute half, the Centaurs did just that, as Mackenzie fired home a shot from a play started by Julia Kostecki. But the goal was called back on an offside.
It was Buono who scored the winner shortly before the teams switched ends for the overtime’s second half. Then it was Centennial’s turn to lock down its defence.
Despite some hand-wringing moments — in particular a Fleetwood direct free kick that sailed over the Centaurs’ net — they succeeded.
Moro, whose entire coaching staff wore bright red t-shirts with the Nike ad’s tagline in white block letters on the back, said his charges had, indeed, persevered.
“We kept our positivity,” he said. “We knew it was going to come.”
• Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils finished sixth, after a 4-2 loss to South Delta in their placement match Friday morning. The Riverside Rapids defeated Sardis, 2-0, to finish seventh.