It took their final league game to decide it, but the Upper Island Riptide U14 Girls soccer team beat the Lower Island’s Gorge/Lakehill Thunder team 3-0 on home turf on Jan. 31 to earn top spot and become Vancouver Island Premier League champions.
One point behind Saanich going into this game, Riptide needed a win to secure top spot in the league for priority seeding in the VIPL A-Cup playdowns, which begin Feb. 14.
Riptide had won both of their previous match-ups against Gorge so they felt confident going in. That said, anything can happen in a game situation so the team knew that they would have to play hard and leave it all out on the turf.
Despite Riptide having the majority of ball possession and multiple chances, it wasn’t until well into the second half that scoring began.
“The girls had their backs against the wall in a scoreless game at half time, knowing they needed a victory in this last league game to take the VIPL league title,” explained coach Jim Stewart. “Our girls kept their cool and started to apply greater pressure with their attack in the second half.”
Then, it was like the taps turned on. It started about 15 minutes in when Abby Sexton made a beautiful pass to Ciara Halvorson whose powerful kick found the back of the net. The team and fans were screaming with excitement, only to hear the referee declare no goal because it was offside!
But that may have been the extra burst of energy that Riptide needed to find completion. A couple of minutes later, Sexton and Halvorson teamed up again to score the first real goal of the game.
Within another five minutes, Halvorson scored again off a long pass from Sophie L at midfield.
With only a couple minutes left in the game, Sexton had a breakaway opportunity which drew the Gorge goalie well out of the net to stop her. With an impending full on collision, Sexton was able to pass the ball off for Tiana Stewart who sped in to score her first goal of the season and clinch the win.
Coaches Stewart, Lisa Wigard and Matt Laver agreed, “It was a tremendous team effort, and they were rewarded with a convincing win. In addition, the girls have maintained momentum heading into the playoffs with five straight victories and they have outscored their opponents 11-2 in those games. We are all very proud of them.”
The win was the sixth clean sheet for Riptide’s defensive line and keeper Nicolette Vinnedge – a 50 per cent shutout rate that they should be very proud of. Riptide ended the season with and 8-3-1 record with 26 goals for and 12 against (the highest goal differential in the league).
Riptide captain Aisha Hunter-Bellavia, expressed the humble pride felt by her team. “Coming into Riptide this year and a higher level of soccer, our team didn’t know how the year would go for us. But with our coaches’ steady guidance and the chance to get additional training through Riptide, we quickly created this amazing skillful and loving group of teammates/sisters/friends.”
Hunter-Bellavia went on to say that, “We learned how to play with and for each other. And we are so grateful to everyone who has put in time to help us get here. We’re excited and ready to go for playdowns.”
Now Riptide has their eyes set on earning their way to the Provincials. Their first game in the VIPL A-Cup playdowns will be on Feb. 21. In the meantime, Riptide will continue their rigorous training schedule plus add exhibition games to continue their preparation.
For more information about the Riptide U14 Girls soccer team, sponsored by Lacasse Construction, visit the team’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/riptide2001girls.
–Riptide U14 Girls