Stu Barker scored two goals for the Cowichan 49ers in a 3-0 win over UVic Alumni in their final league game of the season last Saturday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Stu Barker scored two goals for the Cowichan 49ers in a 3-0 win over UVic Alumni in their final league game of the season last Saturday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Niners come just short of league title

First-year team just misses first place in Masters A

It’s a pretty impressive debut.

In their first year of existence, the Cowichan 49ers just missed out on winning the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s Masters A division, in addition to making the final of the Tony Grover Cup tournament next Sunday.

Head coach Kevin James was “ecstatic” with the result.

“At the beginning of the season, we were hoping to finish in the top four,” he said. “We were not even talking about getting to the cup final or winning the league.”

Team chemistry has been huge for the 49ers in their first season of play.

“It’s a great group of guys,” James said. “They’ve just gelled. There’s been no complaining; everyone is there for each other. That’s what makes teams successful.”

The Niners closed out the season with a 3-0 win over UVic Alumni last Saturday, getting two goals from Stu Barker and one from Kris Lagis, and shutout goalkeeping from Rob McIntyre.

The Masters A title came down to the last weekend of play. Cowichan finished tied with SFFC Old School with a league-best 37 points, although Old School beat the Niners’ goal differential by two. UVic actually could have won the league by beating Cowichan last Saturday, while Cowichan needed to win by at least six goals to get past Old School.

The Niners knew that would be a challenge, but nearly got there, striking multiple posts and crossbars.

“We weren’t thinking six goals,” James said. “But it ended up being our best game of the season. It could have been 7-0. We were happy with getting a win over a team like that and playing as well as we did against a team like that. It was special.”

Just one more point or three more goals over the course of the 18-game season would have made the 49ers Masters A champs.

“We had a really good opportunity,” James acknowledged. “But things didn’t work out that way.”

One particular game, or non-game, might have been the difference.

On Feb. 4, the team opted not to travel due to forecasts of nasty weather between Duncan and Victoria, although two other teams from north of the Malahat — including Masters C team Cowichan Red Arrow — did make the trip.

The Niners talked to their scheduled opponents, Gorge, first, and they agreed to postpone the game. The VISL, however, said the Cowichan team didn’t follow protocol in rescheduling the match, and gave the forfeit win to Gorge.

“Rules are rules, and unfortunately we didn’t play the game,” James said. “We can’t really fault the league.”

Despite what it meant in the final standings,

Despite what it meant in the final standings, James stood by his team’s decision.

“I have no regrets whatsoever,” he said. “We knew we weren’t going a couple hours before. I don’t regret it, and the guys don’t regret it.”

James also pointed out that the points for that match wouldn’t have necessarily been Cowichan’s, either.

“Gorge was really good about it, but we still would have had to beat Gorge,” he said. “It wasn’t a given that we would have had a win or a tie.”

The 49ers, who have already qualified for the provincial masters tournament, will play next in the Tony Grover Cup final this coming Sunday at noon at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park.

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