SURREY — For the Centennial Centaurs, Friday’s B.C. AAA senior girls soccer title-game victory at Cloverdale Athletic Park was a virtual carbon-copy re-play of the 2018 game.
Same opposition: Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons.
Same outcome: A 2-1 overtime victory.
Yet as long-time Centaurs’ coach Larry Moro explained in the moments after the Coquitam-based powerhouse capped an unbeaten 20-0-2 campaign by becoming the event’s first repeat winner in 15 years, sometimes the facsimile is better than the original.
North Vancouver’s Argyle Pipers were the last team to repeat as top-tiered B.C. champs, winning three straight from 2002-04.
“Last year was so incredible,” Moro said after Centennial snapped a 19-year title drought, “but I think I am more emotional today.
“Doing it the first time was tough, but when you put it on your backs like we did,” Moro continued of Centaurs’ t-shirts which read ‘It’s Only Crazy Until You Do It’, “there’s not a lot of room for error. But when you back it up? It’s sweet. No one has repeated in 15 years and the reason is that it ain’t easy to do.”
Consider that the juggernaut Centaurs compiled a plus-85 goal differential over the course of their 22 games, scoring 92 while allowing only seven, there was no reason for them to panic after the Dragons took a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute on a goal by substitute Klera Ramilo.
Centennial’s immediate response was a 25-yard blast by Grade 10 forward Avery Tulloch that found the top corner and sent the teams to the half locked in a 1-1 draw.
Yet despite an enormous advantage in play the rest of the way, it took a clutch 12-yard shot about four minutes into overtime by senior striker Kiara Buono to ultimately decide it.
“She came off at one point upset about the way she was playing to that point, but I told her to stay confident in herself, to believe in herself,” said Centennial co-coach Kevin Comeau. “I told her that when she went back in that she was going to score the game winner, and she did.”
It was the perfect exit from a brilliant high school career to one which continues next season in the NCAA with Simon Fraser.
“She worked so hard for that goal, and it’s the biggest one she’s scored in her life,” said Centennial’s ace Grade 11 attacking midfielder Raegan Mackenzie who a day earlier had set up Buono’s winning goal in a 4-2 semifinal victory over Richmond’s R.A. McMath Wildcats.
Fleetwood Park head coach Sunny Uppal was understandably proud of his Dragons, who were a long shot to even advance from their group, let alone attempt to win their third B.C. title in six years.
“How many of them were hurt or taped up?” asked Uppal whose team lost in the final for the third straight season, all three coming outside of regulation time. “Simran (Billen) played on a torn ACL from last year. Ankles, knees, backs were being taped up,” he added, “and then the heat and the overtime. You could just see (how exhausted were) as the game went along.”
While Fleetwood’s opportunistic offence coupled with suffocating team defence worked when it had to throughout the season, Uppal admitted that the Centaurs were just a step above everyone in the province this season.
“They are so good,” he said. “They are physically dominant and when they can win those loose balls and headers, they can really change a game. They are so organized that it’s difficult to break down a team like that.”
Centennial, however, almost paid for the biggest breakdown of its season.
Early in the first half, the Dragons had subbed the diminutive Ramilo into the contest, and moments later, she took full advantage of a Centaurs’ miscue.
“They got a ball inside and there was no communication,” Moro said. “Neither of our centre backs went to her, and our keeper came out. They just got in each other’s way and it was a terrible mistake that we really hadn’t made all year.”
That a Grade 10 forward immediately righted the wrong was huge for the Centaurs.
Tulloch not only blasted home her long shot, she brought attacking energy and service the entire match.
“We told our girls that they needed to take a lot of long shots that would stretch (Fleetwood Park) out a bit,” said Moro. “We knew they were going to be tough to break down after they scored the first goal. Avery’s goal, that was a seeing-eye sweetheart, but she also had outstanding game all over the field.”
Mackenzie, who will be back to lead her team in pursuit of a threepeat next season as a senior left no doubt as to how important high school soccer has been to her.
“School soccer is the most fun, the most exciting,” she said. “It’s better than anything. “It’s the most exciting one of them all.”
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