Boys high school soccer in the Tri-Cities has a new look.
A change adopted by BC School Sports to the zoning structure means Tri-City teams that comprise the Fraser Valley North zone will no longer have to battle their way through the expansive, ultra-competitive Fraser Valley to get to provincials. Instead, they’ll compete with teams from Burnaby New Westminster, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
The smaller pool of teams likely means one less berth will be available in the championship tournament so teams will have to be on their toes to carry momentum into the playoffs to earn one of those positions, said Mike Viveiros, the head coach of the Heritage Woods Kodiaks.
“If only two spots to B.C.s are up for grabs, it will be more difficult to make B.C.s,” he told The Tri-City News.
The zoning change has also introduced a tiering structure to the league, with the Gleneagle Talons dropping down to the second tier to compete against teams from Maple Ridge and PItt Meadows while perennial AA contenders Archbishop Carney steps up into the league’s top tier.
As the season starts hitting its stride this week with a full slate of matches, here’s how the teams stack up:
Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils
Blue Devils’ head coach Dave Jones said a young, inexperienced lineup and the loss of some key veterans will make it tough for his side to match its fifth-place standing at last year’s provincial championship, let alone repeat its 2017 triumph.
But what the team will miss with the absence of players like Elijah Dos Santos, who has moved on to the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program, they’ll make up with hard work “that has a balance of grit and skill,” Jones said.
Some key players to the team’s aspirations will be co-captains Erwin Perez Romero and Dominic Tomassetti, with support from young up-and-comers Kevin Litvin and Lieto Hutchinson.
“It is definitely a rebuilding year,” Jones said. “I see a lot of parity in the league.”
Archbishop Carney Stars
The Stars finished second at last year’s AA provincials and fourth the year before. But those results have little currency now that the team is competing with the bigger AAA schools, said coach Mate Zvicer, who remains confident his charges are up to the challenge.
“I feel we have always been able to compete at AAA despite being an AA school,” Zvicer said. “I think our talent and work ethic will help us overcome the challenge of playing up this year.”
Zvicer said the Stars are especially strong at centre midfield, where three Grade 11 players — Franci Powell, Keiran Eve and Nick Pavicevic — have the skill, vision, touch and zeal to dominate that area.
“I’m glad we don’t have to play against them,” he said.
Another junior, Dawson Brown, will use his finishing touch from the striker position to drive the Stars’ offence, along with Mikey Dale’s strength, leadership and compete level, said Zvicer, who also dismissed any concerns about his side’s youth.
“I would say they are a team that is very motivated.”
Terry Fox Ravens
The Ravens are young but head coach John Murphy said the team’s talent has him excited about its potential.
While key members from last year’s squad — including keeper Shane Grinwis, Christian Barbato, Jacob York and Matthew Garofalo — have graduated, Murphy said they’ll be capably replaced by Sam Caldarone in net, senior midfielder Ighsaan Mohamed, and tall, athletic defenders Cole and Bailey Newton.
Murphy said the pieces are in place for a successful season. How far that goes will be determined by “the importance of playing together and peaking at the right time.”
Port Moody Blues
Blues coach Robert Edwards said he hopes a light touch will bring out the best in his charges.
Edwards said while Port Moody will field a strong, hardworking team, they’ll also look to have some fun.
While stalwarts Alonso Alva and Stefan Vukovic have moved on, players including midfielders Cole Neveleinan and Noel Illing, as well as defenders Alec Pettingale, David Murgulet and Adrian Jelenici, are ready to step up.
The Centaurs stand tall in net, with 6’7” Dominic Parolin, who’s also a star on Centennial’s senior boys' basketball team, guarding the crease.
From the goal line out, head coach Kevin Comeau said the Centaurs will be a gritty, defensive side with eight returning players and nine newcomers.
Key defenders such as senior Dante Bandiera, midfielder Elijah Quinto, as well as newly-minted starters Liam Haysom and Nico Porretti, will have to hold the fort as the team tries to find its scoring legs with the graduation of last year’s top point-producers, John Favaro and Joshua Lang.
“We will need to get our feet wet and realize the pace and style of play,” Comeau said. “Working hard and getting contributions from everyone will be needed.”
What the Rapids lack in talent, parent-coach Nigel Wheeler hopes to make up with enthusiasm and versatility.
Wheeler said the often-conflicting commitments of student athletes means players will be expected to step into unfamiliar roles as their teammates tend to academics, part-time jobs and graduation requirements. How well they do that will go a long way to determine Riverside’s success.
Key players to lead the way include defenders Scott Helmhold and Mick Oravec as well as forwards Liam Wheeler and Henry Kim.
Nigel Wheeler said he’ll also lean on outside midfielder Carson Grisley and defender Jacob Mitchell while juniors John Franca, Connor Kerr and Nick Ucrainet will also be expected to chip in.
Heritage Woods Kodiaks
A lineup heavy with Grade 11 players, and a strong junior program, means the future is bright for the Kodiaks, said head coach Mike Viveiros.
Success in the here and now, though, will be dependant on strong midfield play by senior Luca Cavasin as well as juniors Michael Osorio and Anthony White.
“That will be our strong suit,” Viveiros said, adding his team will be challenged to find scoring after the graduation of Carsen Maurice, Andrew Roberts, Farzad Rajab Ali and Ethan Gaddu.
Some of that scoring might come from speedy senior Ethan Ast, who will be unleashed into the striker position after biding time last season as a right back.
With only two returning starters from last season, Timberwolves head coach Steve Jack isn’t entirely sure what he’s got.
Seniors such as keeper Arash Bidelou, defender Kyle Olley and midfielder Essam Qasam, as well as Grade 11 defender Scott Tara, will be expected to provide leadership to a roster almost half comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
“Some of our young players will get significant roles and have to step up at a young age in a very fast, physical league,” Jack said.