SURREY — No team has perhaps had a tougher road to the B.C. senior girls AAA soccer championships the last two years running than Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Rapids.
Last season, Riverside broke through by defeating Surrey’s Elgin Park Orcas 2-0 in the Fraser Valley’s seventh-place, loser-go-home match to earn its first-ever senior varsity provincial tournament appearance in school history.
This season, it has been deja vu all over again.
Earlier this month, Riverside found itself in precisely the same position as last season, needing to win the Fraser Valley’s seventh-place game to make a return trip to provincials.
After falling behind 1-0 to Surrey’s Sullivan Heights Stars, however, the Rapids got a late goal in regulation from Shannon Pilgrim to tie it, and then an overtime strike from Natalie Gane to win 2-1.
“We just kept pushing through,” said Kenny Jamieson, who co-coaches the team with Cindy Cuccione. “We thought we had a really good team out there, and with the chances we were creating we were just hopeful we would get something in overtime. We didn’t want to go to penalties, so to get that late goal was a huge focus.”
Another huge focus for the Rapids is bringing their best to the table when the 16-team B.C. tourney opens with group stage action Wednesday at Cloverdale Athletic Park.
Not only did Riverside qualify through the same sudden-elimination game at the Fraser Valleys, it will open against the very same team it did last year, this time looking for a drastically different result.
Riverside opens its run at provincials with a 10:45 a.m. contest against North Vancovuer’s perennialy-tough Argyle Pipers. Last season Argyle beat Riverside 2-0 to open the tournament.
As per their evolution, Jamieson points out that this season has been the first in which the program’s initial wave of success has been replenished from below by its feeder system.
“It’s the first time we’ve had our junior team move up to senior,” the coach says. “This is the first time we’ve had a group that hasn’t been with us for four years, so it took us some time to get our chemistry together. The good part was that the team which moved up is a really really strong group, and as they’ve meshed, things have really come together.”
The Rapids, for surviving the Fraser Valley gauntlet, come in battle-tested.
Riverside plays in perhaps the province’s toughest division, the Fraser Valley North which features tourney toughies Centennial and Dr. Charles Best.
The Rapids took their lumps from Best, losing 3-1 twice including playoffs, yet went 4-1-1 in league play with a plus-17 goal differential and a 1-1 tie against Centennial.
At provincials, the Rapids wrap up play Wednesday with a 2:15 p.m.clash against Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons, then close out pool play with a 9 a.m. game Thursday against Kelowna.
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