The Hope Mustangs girls have put a ton of time into improving their soccer skills and knowledge this year — and it shows.
The senior girls finished their league play in late April and have since gone to two two-day tournaments in the Interior, all with encouraging results.
“Last year, we didn’t win a single game,” said second-year head coach, Jeremy Smith, on Tuesday. “We scored one goal in league play and one at the Merritt tournament, where we finished dead last.
“This year, we won one at home against Abby Christian and won one on the road at Rick Hansen.”
Those wins gave Hope a sixth-place finish in the eight-team league, ahead of the teams they beat.
“We scored seven goals in the league this year and Kelsey Striker, Ionela Garrett and Hannah Sauvé were our top scorers,” said Smith, who teaches at the school.
Two weekends ago, the girls traveled to Merritt for a 12-team tournament.
“This year, we had three wins, two of them in shoot-out tie-breakers,” said Smith. “Our total of goals would probably be near 10. We also lost one in a shoot-out… then we lost 4-0 or 4-1 to Ashcroft, to finish in second place.
“At the Osoyoos tournament last weekend, we started off against Ashcroft, which made for a tough start,” said Smith. “Each game after that, we got better and we won our last one.
“We had a blast, though,” he added. “We had a photo shoot down by the lake and the girls got a plan together and threw me into the lake! I overheard their plan, so I put away my wallet and cell phone ahead of time.
“We took the picture and Kelsey charged me and I grabbed her and we both fell in. About 10 girls ended up in the water.”
While the senior team was winding down, an opportunity was offered by Chilliwack schools for Hope to enter a Grade 8-9 team in the middle school league. Smith hadn’t intended to run a junior team this year but over half of the juniors had played for the seniors, so he kept the game alive.
While the senior Mustangs were blessed with plenty of subs, the juniors only have 14 on the roster, which has meant a very short — or nonexistent — bench in their first three games.
Monday at home, the girls started with no subs and played much of the last half with only 10 players, due to injury. Rosedale was held to 0-0 at the half but they opened things up with their skill and numerous spares, for a 5-0 win.
The result was similar at Slesse on Tuesday.
“We definitely need more conditioning next year,” said coach Smith. “The girls are getting tired.
“The other thing with the junior teams is there’s no streaming into higher or lower leagues, so we’re getting stuck with playing against some pretty strong players.”
Both the senior and junior teams have an unusual look in their goal-tending roles, with Smith encouraging his keepers to roam far out of their nets. You’ll regularly see senior keeper Erica McAllister and junior Abbie Striker far out of the penalty area, looking to knock away stray passes.
“That’s my style,” explained Smith. “I played goalie that way when I started soccer, from age 10 to 15. It works well in this league because there are a lot of kick-and-run plays.”
Eventually, the opponent carries the ball in, to try and beat the keeper one-on-one. When out of the penalty area, the keepers can’t uses their hands, so it’s a challenge to get to the ball first or get in the way and “jockey” the attacker until help arrives.
It doesn’t always work.
“I tell the keepers not to sweat it when somebody does score on them, because they’re shutting down so may more chances by being out there, playing aggressively,” Smith explained.
The girls have held three fundraisers this year, to help cover their expenses and Smith anticipates a surplus of around $1,000, which he hopes to put toward the purchase of new aluminum goals, to replace the old steel goals that are very hard to move. Having mobile goals would make it easier to change field sizes and move players away from worn-out areas.
Smith said he plans to work with Bruce Becker of Hope Minor Soccer to run a fundraiser during the summer to secure the extra funds needed for the new goals.