PORT COQUITLAM — In a lot of ways, you can call John Murphy the ultimate Terry Fox Raven.
If history lessons are needed to sweep away the cobwebs of the 25 years which have passed since the hard-nosed guard helped his school win its first-ever B.C. senior boys basketball title, then so be it.
Murphy, Bret Anderson, Chris Szarka, Vic Grigore and Dave Morgan.
What a starting five it was back in that top-tiered 1992-93 AAA season.
And when Grigore and Morgan returned the next season to help the Ravens repeat, on the heels of the school’s earlier 1989 B.C. high school football title, they had effectively ushered in the modern-era of sports dominance at the re-christened school formerly known as Port Coquitlam Senior Secondary.
Ask any true B.C. high school/university sports fan when his or her best few weeks of the year are, and it’s likely they will choose these final two weeks of November heading into December.
Yet in 2018, the criss-cross of the fall and winter sports seasons, where football, soccer and volleyball intersect with the opening of a new basketball season, seems especially pronounced these days at Terry Fox.
Subway Bowl B.C. AAA football semifinals this Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium where the Ravens clash with the defending champion New Westminster Hyacks in a rematch of 2017’s last-play heart-stopper.
The start of a senior boys basketball season in which the preseason Quad-A No. 4-ranked Ravens tip-off 2018-19 this coming Nov. 27 at Vancouver College.
Lost in all of that is the fact that, beginning Thursday at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex, the Terry Fox boys soccer team opens play at the B.C. AAA senior varsity championships.
And while Murphy was an excellent glue-guy when he played for basketball coaches Don Van Os, Rich Chambers and Mike Hind back in the day, as well as an excellent lacrosse player, he was always a soccer player first.
So might this also be the year for Ravens’ boys soccer?
Murphy, now in his 17th year coaching the Terry Fox senior varsity, led the team to a third-place finish in 2005 and to a title-game loss back in 2012 to crosstown foe Dr. Charles Best.
This season, in a drum-tight, top-end heavy Fraser Valley conference, the Ravens (8-2-2) did not taste defeat until they lost by identical 1-0 scores in the conference semifinals to eventual champ Abbotsford, and Surrey’s Panorama Ridge in the bronze final earlier this month.
As well, the Ravens also won the Fraser Valley junior boys championship, the school’s first-ever boys soccer banner.
And while there are many theories within B.C. high school soccer as to how to build the best team, the method Murphy has subscribed to strives to make the environment as welcoming as possible to the high-end club player who is already juggling a planner filled with practices, games and a heavy academic workload.
“I chat with players and their parents a lot on weekends when they are playing with their clubs,” says Murphy, 43, who coaches with Dustin Corpuz. “With such a short (high school) season, you don’t have the time to form the bonds you’d like to, so you need to ask questions about what formations they play. They already train three times a week, so now you can’t drive them away by throwing another two or three sessions in at school.”
Instead, why not create a contrasting experience within the game for them?
“So at school, it’s not as intense, it’s more light and fun and we focus on camaraderie and team building,” continues Murphy who took his team to Victoria for a mini-tour, complete with a stop at the University of Victoria where the team held a training session, chatted with UVic coaches and later attended a Vikes’ home game. “It seems to be the better formula and it gets those very good club guys who might be on the fence to commit.”
While the past few years have seen more of a return to the old-school multi-sport mentality in B.C. high schools, Murphy definitely wishes there was more of the same at Terry Fox.
This season, the crossover is minimal. In fact starting left back Dawson Hodge, a senior who also kicks for the football team, is the only two-sport soccer-football guy.
Look back on that golden age of Fox sports in early-to-mid 1990s, and the crossover factor was huge.
“Bret, Dave and myself had played lacrosse and soccer since were were five six, seven years old,” says Murphy. “And then we threw basketball into the mix later.”
Anderson and Szarka, of course, went on to long and successful careers in the Canadian Football League.
Yet the lack of multi-sport athletes between the school’s senior boys football, soccer and basketball teams doesn’t mean that there aren’t some generational connections being renewed between those sports this season.
One of the Ravens’ top soccer talents is senior striker Lukas Nikula, the son of Janne Nikula, the hard-rock fullback on the Terry Fox football team which won that 1989 B.C. Double-A championship.
“When he decides to use his size and his speed, he can be a very tough guy to defend,” Murphy says of the younger Nikula.
Senior centre backs Christian Barbato and Mateo Morello, as well as senior midfielder Jacob York are among the team’s standout talents.
And the Ravens have a blue-chip keeper in Shayne Grinwis who backstopped Coquitlam Metro Ford to the U-17 national title.
“I can’t speak for every kid in every sport, but in addition to knowing the soccer guys, I also know a lot of the basketball kids and a handful of the football guys,” Murphy says. “And on top of being great at their particular sports, this is a senior class so polite, so respectful and so understanding of what goes into extra-curriculars with coaching. They are a breath of fresh air.”
Knowing all of that, then, expect a very focused and emotional week for the Raven nation.
Between the start of soccer provincials Thursday, the Subway Bowl B.C. semifinal Saturday and the start of the basketball season next Tuesday, three top-tiered provincial contenders will be either completing or beginning championship journeys.
And in lieu of a glut of cross-over content between the three sports, a Terry Fox lifer like Murphy can still find a way to make the past intersect with the present.
“Dawson was brought onto the football team to be a kicker because of his soccer background,” says Murphy of Hodge. “But he didn’t necessarily have all the technique down.
“So I gave Bret a call,” laughed Murphy of Anderson, a Jim Thorpe-type figure in the Tri-Cities area who not only caught passes for the B.C. Lions but repped as a quarterback, place-kicker and punter. “I asked him if he could help the football team out and within the next few days, he was out on the field with Dawson helping him fine-tune technique.
“Hey, I can still call in some pretty good resources.”
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