By Barry Stewart
Hope Secondary hosted its second annual boys’ soccer tournament on the weekend, attracting two more teams than last year.
Mustangs coach and tournament coordinator, Jeremy Smith, said all of last year’s team returned, with Pemberton and Fort St. James being the newcomers.
Valley teams included Agassiz, Abbotsford Christian and Chilliwack’s Unity Christian and High Road Academy. Merritt, 100 Mile House and Xit’olacw (“Zee-toe-LAK-wa”) of Mount Currie, rounded out the visiting competition.
All schools rate as single-A, or small school populations — but some were very small. 100 Mile House came with exactly 11 players, so played without substitutions through all of their games and Pemberton only had nine players. Smith said all teams voluntarily reduced to nine, whenever they played Pemberton.
High school league games are usually 80 minutes long but for Friday’s round robin matches, the time was reduced to 40. Teams played four games in their pool, then the results were tallied for Saturday’s 60-minute playdowns.
The young Hope squad is in a rebuilding year and were outmatched in a number of their games.
“We’ve been focusing on marking our checks and after three tournaments, they’re starting to show it,” said coach Smith. “Vinnie Pellegrino was a huge force on the back line, cleaning up a lot of problems — and Ben Gladue was solid in net.”
The Mustangs had a 2-1 loss to Agassiz and another close one in the 3-1 loss to Fort St. James. Their sole win came against the eventual third-place team, Xit’olacw.
“We scored two early goals, then the game got cut short by the referee, when the (visiting) coaches wouldn’t settle down.”
Friday’s weather wasn’t great and Saturday morning’s looked promising — but the clouds soon gathered and emptied their biggest loads on the championship games in the early afternoon.
Xit’olacw earned a 2-0 decision over High Road in the consolation final, while Unity and Abby Christian met for a hard-fought championship game that mirrored their opening match on Friday.
Friday, it was Abby Christian scoring first, with Unity tying it up in the second half, forcing a tie-breaking shootout that went to seven shots before Abby Christian failed to score on their final chance.
Saturday, playing through mud and driving rain, Abby Christian scored first again — then Unity tied it up, to force another shootout. The surrounding neighbourhood would have heard the thundering celebrations after each shot.
This time, it came down to the fifth round of kicks. Unity had the 4-3 edge and Abby Christian had to score to stay alive.
“The last shooter shot it right into the goalie,” said Smith. Once again, Unity eked out a win over a rival that was their equal in speed and skill.
After a few demoralizing defeats against other Valley schools, coach Smith has decided to withdraw the team from the league for the rest of the season.
“It’s not fun for either side when it’s so lopsided, and it’s a lot of travel to get thrashed,” said Smith. “We’re going to play some exhibition games with Merritt and Lillooet instead.”
The school will also host a boys’ indoor tournament on the first weekend of November, with five or six teams taking part.
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