Centennial's Meghan Harder (centre) kept her head in the game, helping lead the defending B.C. AAA champion Centaurs past host South Delta in a Fraser Valley semifinal clash at Winskill Park in Tsawwassen. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Girls Soccer

Encore, encore? Constant refinement the key as defending B.C. AAA champ Centennial preps for FV title match

TSAWWASSEN — As accomplished as they are as B.C.’s reigning top-tiered girls high school soccer champions, Coquitlam’s dynamic Centennial Centaurs aren’t above having their collective re-set button pushed in preparation for what they hope is a long and healthy run to a repeat title.

At their best, like they were upon hitting full attack mode Monday afternoon in Tsawwassen en route to a 3-1 Fraser Valley Triple-A championship semifinal win over the host South Delta Sun Devils, they are a force of nature.

Yet over the course of a 4-0-2 Fraser Valley North conference schedule, one in which they drew 1-1 with its area rivals – PoCo’s Riverside Rapids and the crosstown Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils – there was a tendency to perhaps not embrace every moment the way a defending champ must.

There were even signs of it in the opening minutes Monday when the host Sun Devils, a youthful cast which includes a trio of Grade 8 silver players, converted off a corner to take a 1-0 lead.

“We’ve had a solid season,” understated Centaurs’ co-coach Larry Moro, whose undefeated charges improved to 14-0-2 overall with the win. “But we discovered in that game against Charles Best (a 1-1 draw April 29 in the league finale) that we just had not had enough tough games.It was a great wake-up call that we had to up our intensity and we did that last week. I thought the girls were brilliant.”

Moro was speaking to the virtues of a 3-0 win by the Centaurs over none other than the Blue Devils, a win which not only opened the conference playoffs season but assured Centennial of a return trip to the provincial tournament.

Yes, the Centaurs did give up an early goal to South Delta on Monday, and it is certain to be the subject of discussion as Centennial prepares to meet Surrey’s Panorama Ridge Thunder in the Fraser Valley AAA championship match Thursday (2 p.m.) at Cloverdale Athletic Park. The Thunder beat last season’s B.C. finalists, the Fleetwood Park Dragons, 2-1 in the FV’s other Monday semifinal.

Yet it was apparent in the way in which Centennial responded to its early adversity that they are indeed playing their brand of soccer when it matters most.

South Delta’s Breanne Gallagher uses her head to quash a first-half Centennial corner during Fraser Valley semifinals staged Monday at Tsawwassen’s Winskill Park. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Breanne Gallagher, South Delta’s lone senior, had opened the scoring in the fifth minute by heading home a corner.

Yet within a minute, Raegan Mackenzie, the Centaurs’ gifted Grade 11 midfielder, had equalized off a penalty kick awarded for a Sun Devils’ hand ball.

Mackenzie later sent a seeing-eye direct free kick past a tight wall for the winning goal, this one awarded for a hand ball outside the penalty area.

“Teams come at us a lot harder than they did last year,” admitted Mackenzie afterwards. “They know us as a different team now. Last season was the most amazing thing any of us had ever, ever accomplished. It taught us a lot about how we have to play with each other. We don’t kick the ball. We keep the ball. We play like a team and that is what you have to do to win.”

So key in last season’s B.C. title win, Centennial’s Grade 11 sensation Raegan Mackenzie was at it again on Monday, scoring two goals off penalty kicks to lead the Centaurs past the host Sun Devils and into Thursday’s Fraser Valley AAA title game. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

That mentality led to wave after wave of Centaurs’ pressure before Simon Fraser-bound Kiara Buono wrapped up the scoring for Centennial, finding the back of the net from 30 yards out.

“We were not as intense at the start of this game but our quality took over as far as possession play,” said Moro, who along with co-coach Kevin Comeau last season guided Centennial to its first B.C. title in 19 seasons. “We left a lot of goals on the field but we scored enough and other than the corner kick, we didn’t give up anything.”

As young as they have ever been, South Delta could take solace in the fact that despite its youthful inexperience, it competed hard and that two hand-ball infractions wound up being the difference.

South Delta coaches Brent Sweeney (left) and Stephen Burns confer with their Sun Devils during halftime of a 3-1 FV AAA semifinal loss to Centennial on Monday in Tsawwassen. The pair have led South Delta to an 18th straight B.C. tourney berth later this month in Surrey. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

“Centennial, they are a handful,” said co-coach Stephen Burns, who along with Brent Sweeney have guided the Sun Devils to a most remarkable 18th straight B.C. tourney berth. “They have weapons all over the place but I thought we competed. We got up a goal and we were right there until that mistake outside of the area. But after that we were chasing and it’s hard to chase against Centennial because they counter you and they have players who can play anywhere.”

The Centaurs will get all they can handle from Panorama Ridge on Thursday in the Valley championship final, yet with the ultimate goal a repeat provincial title, Centennial coaches will continue to chase that ideal team state where its intensity is balanced by its composure.

“Kevin and I are both calm and I think there is a calmness to us as a team,” begins Moro. “But I think that intensity has to be brought as well. That was something that (2018 grad and current SFU Clan rising sophomore) Danae Robillard brought. Her intensity fed through the whole team and that is one thing that we have challenged the other girls to provide.”

The Fraser Valley tournament continues Wednesday at two regional sites.

Sardis hosts Sullivan Heights, while Dr. Charles Best hosts Riverside.

All of the action then shifts to Cloverdale Athletic Park on Thursday.

The two losers will meet in the 7th-8th game at 12 p.m., with the loser’s season coming to an end one game shy of provincials.

Wednesday’s two winners will play for fifth and sixth, also at 12 p.m.

Fleetwood Park and South Delta will play in a 10 a.m. contest for third and fourth, while Centennial and Panorama Ridge battle for first and second at 2 p.m.

In a clash for possession, South Delta’s Natalie Anderson (left) battles with Centennial’s Meghan Harder during Fraser Valley top-tiered Final Four clash Monday at Winskill Park. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Fraser Valley Double A action also takes place at Cloverdale Athletic.

MEI will face Holy Cross at 12 p.m. for third and fourth place, while at 2 p.m. Archbishop Carney meets Pitt Meadows in the title game.

At 2 p.m., the FV junior final will take place, pitting the winner of Tuesdays two semifinals, which match Centennial vs. Sardis, and Fraser Heights vs. Semiahmoo.

The FV Grade 8-9 title game will go at 10 a.m. The combatants will be the winner of Tuesdays two semifinals, which feature Earl Marriott vs. L.A. Matheson, and Credo Christian vs. Brookswood.

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