SURREY — The health of a team heading into the B.C. girls high school soccer championships isn’t always measured by its number of bumps and bruises.
In fact, veteran coaches will tell you that one of the unique challenges of their sport is building a sense of team when culling together a roster of players from community teams of all different ages and abilities.
On the eve of the 2017 B.C. Triple A championships, set to begin a three-day run Wednesday at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex, just such team matters have been an integral part of the big picture this season for Surrey’s Panorama Ridge Thunder.
“Our Grade 12’s have mentioned to us that they have never felt more of a sense of team than this season,” says Thunder co-coach Derek Duke of a Panorama Ridge team which enters the B.C. draw as Fraser Valley champions.
“When this season started, we had a large amount of turnover, and we had a lot of different grades playing,” continued Duke of the fact that often times, teams will have 13-year-old Grade 8s sharing time on the field with 18-year-old seniors.
“With all of the new faces, we didn’t place big expectations on anything,” continued Duke. “We just decided to work on team building.”
Steadily, that camaraderie and chemistry built, and when Whitecaps star and Washington State-bound standout Shanya Dhindsa scored a pair of goals in the Thunder’s 2-0 Fraser Valley final win over Chilliwack’s Sardis Falcons, you could be excused for wondering when the team last hoisted a provincial championship banner.
The answer is 2012, but all of that, of course, given the unpredictable nature of the provincials, is premature.
“The provincials are a different beast than the Fraser Valley,” admits Duke whose team has been led this season by a host of players, including the likes of Harneet Dadrao, Kuljit Johal, Alanna Sydenham, Ritti Lakhanpal and keeper Iqnoor Sidhu. “You don’t get breaks in between games, and you just hope you don’t have too many injuries after three straight days.
“There are so many solid teams here, you just want to try to get through pool play (three games over what roughly amounts to a 24-hour period) and into the semifinals.”
Panorama Ridge is the top seed in Pool C, along with Kelowna, Carihi of Campbell River and Lord Byng of Vancouver.
The Thunder open play at 11 a.m. Wednesday against Byng, face Carihi at 2:45 p.m., then close out pool play Thursday (9 a.m.) against Kelowna.
The winner of that pool, faces the winner of D Pool featuring McMath, Clayton Heights, Centennial and Burnaby North, in the semifinals.
Reynolds, Charles Best, Kitsilano and perennial power Fleetwood Park make up Pool A, with Handsworth, Sardis, South Delta and North Peace comprising Pool B, each on the other side of the draw.
Semifinals are slated for 12:45 and 2:45 p.m. Thursday, with the championship final going at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
And getting back to creating a true team culture, it’s what B.C. high school soccer is all about.
It’s about coaches like Carihi’s John Jepson hosting the province’s longest-running senior girls soccer invitational tournament the last 21 years in Campbell River.
It’s the tense tradition and rivalry built into the annual all-Surrey clashes between Panorama Ridge and crosstown foe Fleetwood Park, the defending B.C. champs who have won two of the last three provincial banners.
And it’s about coaches like Steve Burns and Brent Sweeney at South Delta, pioneers in championing tradition and excellence in the sport, both at their school and around the province.
What did the Thunder do this season to help build their team chemistry?
Just last week, for two nights, the team was engrossed in community outreach, serving hot meals to the under-privileged in Whalley through the Nightshift program.
“It was an idea that came from our captains,” said Duke. “Some of the girls had never volunteered before and it was an eye-opening experience for them to go into their community. They were super appreciative of the opportunity.”
And reminded once again that they are a team together in chase of a common goal.
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