The Cowichan Spartans were a little dismayed to finish sixth at the provincial U17 boys soccer championships in Penticton earlier this month, having ended the tournament with a loss, but they had a lot to be proud of,either way.
Not only was the team among the best half-dozen squads in B.C., but they also received the Fair Play Award in recognition of their sportsmanship throughout the tournament.
“The gentleman who presented it to us said it doesn’t seem like much when you’ve just lost, but it’s an important award,” Cowichan head coach Al Longair said.
One of eight qualifying teams from across B.C., the Spartans got off to a rough start in Penticton, but got better steadily as the tournament progressed.
“We had a couple of unfortunate turf bounces,” Longair said. “We hit a crossbar. We didn’t have luck going our way through the four games, but the boys played really hard. The conditions were difficult with the heat, but they worked hard and improved each game.”
The Cowichan team kicked things off on July 9 with a 5-0 loss to the North Vancouver Fury, and the following day, they lost 3-0 to the Kootenay South Storm. On the third day of the tournament, they got into the win column by edging Terrace 2-1.
In their final game, they lost 3-0 to the KLM Kings from Vancouver, the team that beat them 2-1 in extra time in the Coastal Cup semifinal two months earlier.
The Kings were a chippy team, but, true to their Fair Play form, the Spartans weren’t goaded into retaliating.
“Our communication got better,” Longair said. “I felt that our final game was one of our best games as a team. They came together a lot through those four days. It was very rewarding to be involved with that group of boys. They’re a terrific group of kids.”
The players had to overcome a few challenges in the lead-up to provincials. For one thing, they had to add five extra players to the roster because some boys were unable to take time to make the trip. In addition to that, the rest of the team hadn’t played a league game since their season ended in March.
“Our first meaningful game was the first game of the tournament, up against the top team,” Longair said. “It looked like we hadn’t played together for a while.”
One of the Spartans’ best individual performances of the weekend came from Kevin Harland, who played primarily at centre midfield.
“He got better and better through the tournament,” Longair said. “In the last two games, he was on fire, just all over the field. For the most part, we didn’t have one player who stood out. He comes to mind because of the extra effort he put in as the tournament progressed, but they all played very hard.
“Matt Gurzinski was another tireless worker at striker, and when we needed him, at centre back. And our co-captain, Jeremy Stacey, primarily at centre back, played every minute of every game. He was vital in our defence and started our attack by going on some good runs.”