Centennial's Kiara Buono (right) is embraced by teammate Raegan Mackenzie after scoring what proved to be the winning goal in a 4-2 B.C. Triple-A semifinal win Thursday over Richmond's R.A.McMath Wildcats at Cloverdale Athletic Park. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Girls Soccer

With a healthy spring back in her step, Centennial’s Buono steps up big, helps lead champion Centaurs back to B.C. AAA finale!

SURREY — Don’t be surprised if you see Centennial’s dynamic No. 4 with just a little extra jump in her step come game time Friday morning at Cloverdale Athletic Park.

Exactly one year ago, with her team looking to win its first B.C. title in 19 years, Kiara Buono showed up at the park with limp in her step and a frown in her heart.

A rolled ankle in the previous day’s semifinal win had swollen to the point where after just four minutes of title-game action, her coaches pulled her off the field.

Buono, of course, was thrilled to see her Centaurs win the provincial AAA title by beating Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons 1-0 overtime.

Yet not being able to contribute to a victory of that magnitude has had her pining for a second chance all season.

That moment arrived Thursday as the Centaurs answered every opposition challenge in an impressive 4-2 semifinal win over Richmond’s R.A. McMath Wildcats here on Day two of the three-day 2019 B.C. senior girls AAA high school soccer championships.

When Buono finished off a great pass from teammate Raegan Mackenzie, she slotted home what proved to be the winning goal early in the second half, setting up a rematch of last season’s final on Friday (11:15 a.m.) against Surrey’s unflappable Fleetwood Park Dragons.

Centennial Centaurs teammates (left to right) Jessica Towner, Julia Kostecki and Raegan Mackenzie congratulate Kiara Buono on a key second-half goal Thursday. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Fleetwood Park advanced to its record sixth straight B.C. title game appearance earlier in the day with a 1-0 win over its cross-city rivals, the Panorama Ridge Thunder.

“Oh my gosh, this was huge for us,” said Buono, part of Simon Fraser’s incoming class of NCAA recruits this fall. “It’s so important for us to try and reclaim what we had last year. And it feels so good because last year, after I rolled my ankle, I couldn’t play.”

The juggernaut Centaurs, undefeated on the season heading into the Friday finale, opened the scoring in the 11th minute when off a corner kick, Dionne Birlyne tapped the ball to the back post where Sophia Ferreira drove it in.

In the 31st minute, Birlyne tenaciously ran onto a brilliant through ball from holding mid Julia Kostecki, creating a breakaway in which she slotted it past the charging McMath keeper for a 2-0 lead.

McMath’s Madi Elcomb unleashed a bullet-like blast to the top corner as the Richmond squad climbed to within 2-1 at the break.

In the second, however, Centennial looked every bit the defending champ, able to summon every response it needed to insure victory.

While Buono’s goal made it 3-1 and seemed to give the Centaurs a huge cushion, Morgan Flynn of McMath came right back to make it 3-2.

Mackenzie, however, not more than two minutes later, got the goal right back to round out the scoring.

“The girls fought hard and worked and got to within one, but then you make some strategic changes to get the equalizer,” said Wildcats’ head coach Mandhir Punia. “Instead, they ended up getting another goal. But I am proud of these girls. It’s the furthest McMath has gotten in a long time.”

Centennial’s Jessica Fong (right) battles to find her way past McMath’s Sarah Dawson in B.C. AAA semifinal play in Surrey. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

For Centennial, great play from its seniors will go a long ways towards a potential repeat, although they couldn’t not have picked a tougher team to do it against than the Dragons.

Centaurs coach Larry Moro loved everything about Buono’s game on Thursday. 

“After having to be a spectator in last season’s semifinal, she is rather motivated,” said Moro who loved what Buono washable to give early when paired with Kostecki in the midfield, and what she gave in the second half when when moved into the attacking third, where she promptly scored.

“This is her last year, and as a captain, she stepped things up today,” he added. “Today we saw her ‘A’ game.”

Of course, she’ll have to bring it again tomorrow against a Fleetwood Park team which remembers all too well the anguish of losing a provincial title in overtime.

Moro, like everyone else at the park Thursday, simply marvelled at the way Fleetwood Park, under its head coach Sunny Uppal, found its way back to a sixth straight final.

“They are incredible and it all goes back to the program Sunny has built,” he said. “It’s all about their belief. But who goes to six straight finals? That is ridiculous.”

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