BURNABY — All through the COVID-cancelled 2020 high school boys soccer season, veteran Argyle Pipers head coach Darren Rath carried around this feeling that all his class of rising senior varsity players needed was a season of play to verify just how special he knew them to be.
Friday, on the lofty stage of the semifinal round of the B.C. senior boys AAA Coastal championship tournament, where annually, tired legs needs to power through a fourth game over a 30-hour span, Rath’s team continued to prove him right, building a 3-0 lead en route to a 3-1 win over Port Coquitlam’s dynamic Riverside Rapids at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.
“I saw all of this in this same group of players when we won the junior North Shore title in 2019, when they were all in Grades 8-10,” Rath said following the victory. “I knew they had something special, and I told them that they were going to have an opportunity to win a (senior) provincial championship.”
True, the tournament has been correctly re-branded as the Coastal championship due to the absence of the Northern and Interior teams, yet the hottest topic of conversation among the coaches this week has been how both the level of play and the parity have dove-tailed at perhaps the highest level in recent memory due to the ultra-competitive teams brought back into the mix like Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Kodiaks.
And now, after beating a very tough Sardis team 3-2 to emerge from group play Friday morning, the Pipers have survived the gauntlet leading to Saturday’s newly-adjusted 11:15 a.m. championship final where they will face Victoria’s Reynolds Roadrunners, the same team they lost to on penalty kicks in the 2016 B.C. AAA final.
The Pipers went up 1-0 in the 13th minute when Grade 11 midfielder Aiden Cook tallied, banging home a pass from senior striker Nick Zaparniuk, after the latter had beaten a pair of defenders on a foray into the 18-yard box, before cutting the ball back to Crook for what would be the only tally of the half.
Eight minutes into the second half, some great work to win the ball in the midfield by Dominic Berg, Crook and Keita Sugamata resulted in the ball being slotted forward to Tait Moffat on the left wing.
Moffat, who earlier in the half had been denied by an incredible Riverside save, this time found Zaparniuk, who despite being stopped on his initial shot, was able to bury the rebound for a 2-0 lead.
Berg wrapped up the Pipers’ scoring with a well-placed shot just inside the bottom corner at the far post on a set-up by Zaparniuk.
Rath tipped his hat to a sold back line of Gavin Archer, Carl Spat, Liam Nilsson and Jonathan Ash-Roberts who were able to limit the offensive prowess of the Rapids.
“It’s a grind playing five games in three days, and two games a day (over the first two), and when games are tight, you not only rely on depth, but you rely on guys just being able to find that extra gear,” said Rath, whose Pipers, in 2015 and then 2016 came away with back-to-back second-place finishes at provincials.
“That’s when that little bit extra in mental determination to get to that ball, to win a tackle and to get behind a defender is so big. That’s the kind of determination that puts you over the edge.”
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