SURREY — Battle-scarred but unbowed, Simran Billen has arrived at a truce with her pain.
Now, the senior striker with Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons is determined to bring a fairy-tale finish to her high school career on the very field she calls her soccer home.
“For me, it’s hard to believe that it’s my last year to wear our jersey,” Billen said Thursday, one day after potting a pair of goals to lead her team to a 5-1 win over its crosstown foes, the Sullivan Heights Stars, in a Fraser Valley Triple A tournament quarterfinal clash at Cloverdale Athletic Park.
“Now, I just want to go out and win it,” she said of the upcoming B.C. championship tournament. “It’s something I need to give back to my school.”
Before that happens, the Dragons will continue their Fraser Valley tournament journey right back at Cloverdale Athletic Park when they face crosstown for Panorama Ridge in a 2:30 p.m. conference Final Four match Monday.
Few can speak to the narrative of thirsting for a B.C. title with the same ingrained passion as the 5-foot-8 striker, who while fully recovered from a torn ACL which shelved her entire 2017 Grade 10 campaign, is still just a tweak away from the painful reminder of her past.
Two weeks ago, Billen took a small step back when she injured the knee and was forced to sit out a few matches.
By Wednesday, however, the fluidity and in-game sense which is such a natural part of her game were once again on full display against the Stars.
Just seconds in, she had a goal disallowed for a very close offside call.
Very soon after she buried her next chance, then went on to score another.
Normally, a win in the final-eight stage of the Fraser Valley tournament clinches a B.C. tourney berth, yet Fleetwood Park is already part of the title-contending field as the 2019 B.C. championship hosts when the event begins a three-day Cloverdale Athletic Park run on May 29.
Yet for Billen, making sure her team qualified on its own merits was very important, as was showing she was back to form.
“I tweaked my knee two weeks ago and so scoring that first goal was just the best feeling ever,” she said. “Now, we’re hosting the B.C.’s right here on the field I grew up on, and I will have my family and friends out to support us. That’s why it’s important for me to be able to give back.”
While Billen has been a big part of the heartbeat of a team which has made the B.C. championship final game in each of her first four seasons in Dragons’ navy, the ups and downs within those four B.C. tournament runs is a universe unto itself.
In her Grade 8 season of 2015, Billen fed her Grade 12 sister Harman Billen with one minute remaining for the goal which tied the B.C. title game against Dr. Charles Best 1-1 and sent it into overtime.
Coquitlam’s Blue Devils, however, were able to win the B.C. title in the extra session.
In her Grade 9 season, Billen took a pass from senior MVP Jessica Galbraith in the title game against North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals and slotted home the game winner in a 1-0 B.C. championship win.
But that was just the capper for her that season.
Dragons head coach Sunny Uppal went with a hunch earlier in the tournament and for the shoot-out portion of the team’s final game of pool play against Victoria’s Bay Breakers, he summoned her to play keeper.
“She didn’t even know how to put the gloves on but she stopped three shots and got us into the semifinals,” said Uppal.
Billen continued to play in the forwards later that day in the Final Four against South Delta, yet she once again was called to keeper duty when the match went to kicks. Once again she came through with the stops that sent her team to the final against Handsworth.
“No matter what, I will always put this team before me and when Uppal told me to put the gloves on, I had to do it,” Billen says in reflection. “I had no clue what I was doing.”
Billen tore her ACL with her Surrey United Club team following the Dragons’ B.C. title run, and that forced her to miss all of her Grade 10 campaign in 2017, one in which Fleetwood Park again advanced all the way to the B.C. title game before losing on penalty kicks to old city foe Panorama Ridge.
A return to play last season as a Grade 11 was again met in heartbreak, this time as the Dragons surrendered the winning goal with two minutes left in overtime of the B.C. final against Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs.
While the Dragons’ seniors are just weeks away from donning cap and gown for their high school graduation ceremony, they’ve got the chance before all of that to pen what would truly be a fairy tale finish to their high school soccer careers.
Billen takes none of it for granted, especially the rare chance she got as an eighth grader to share a season playing together with a sister four years her senior.
“I can remember coming in that season, and there were sign-up sheets for junior and senior teams,” Billen relates. “I was going to sign up for the junior team but (Harman) looked at me and said ‘I am not playing my last season without you.’ The favourite memory of my high school was being able to pass her the ball for that goal (back in 2015).”
In totality, the Fleetwood Park Dragons have played in an astounding five straight B.C. championship finals.
Uppal likes to think that with players like Billen on his roster, his side can not only win what would be a third title in six seasons, but do it as the tournament’s hosts.
“Simran is part of the backbone of this program with her drive, the way she takes on a leadership role and the passion she plays with,” summed Uppal. “She plays with a presence.”
In other Fraser Valley quarterfinals played Wednesday:
South Delta defeated Riverside 1-0 off a penalty kick by Brianna Jassman at Winskill to make its 18th straight trip to the B.C. tournament.
Defending B.C. Champion Centennial blanked city rival Dr. Charles Best 3-0.
Panorama Ridge defeated Sardis 2-0.
Monday’s two semifinal matches pit Centennial at South Delta (Winskill Park) and Fleetwood Park clashing with Panorama Ridge (2:30 p.m., Cloverdale Athletic).
With the top seven Fraser Valley teams earning B.C. berths, the backside of the tournament will also be hotly contested.
Other Monday games: Abbotsford vs. Sardis (Sardis Secondary), W.J.Mouat at Sullivan Heights (Goldstone Park), Fraser Heights at Riverside (Gates Park old turf), Enver Creek at Dr. Charles Best.
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