The Nelson Selects U13 Girls team headed to the Sam Steele Tournament in Cranbrook bent on redemption and returned home with gold.
The previous weekend, the Selects traveled to Cranbrook for the Kootenay provincial playdowns and were narrowly edged by the Kootenay East Youth Soccer Association (KEYSA) Rovers.
“It was extremely disappointing for the girls to not make it provincials by one goal and it was a tough week of wondering: what could have been,” said U13 coach Pete Quinn. “The weekend provided an opportunity to get revenge and prove we have a strong team.”
The Selects started the tournament Saturday morning against Canmore.
The Alberta team — made up of a mix of U14 and U13 girls — came out strong and applied early pressure. But five minutes into the game, the Nelson side woke up and started applying pressure of its own. At the six-minute mark, striker Jodi Surina pounced on a loose ball during a scramble in front of the Canmore net and ended up kneeing the ball into the goal for the 1-0 lead.
Eighteen minutes into the first half, good possession soccer by the Selects ended with a goal by striker Shaen Panko-Dool who put away a ball inside the six-yard box for the 2-0 lead that would hold until half.
Canmore came out strong in the second half and three minutes in, Nelson keeper Hanna Quinn made a diving save to keep the score at 2-0. Nelson controlled the majority of the play in the second half with several scoring chances and impenetrable defence. No goals were scored and the Selects were off to a good start with a solid win.
In the Saturday afternoon game, the Selects took on the Columbia Valley (Invermere) side and came out strong from the opening whistle. Ten minutes into the game, striker Simone Kirsten made a nice cross to midfielder Shianne Michalchuk who popped the ball top corner from in close to give Nelson the 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes into the second half, Panko-Dool was taken down on a scoring chance inside the 18-yard box which led to a free kick. Defender Emily Taylor took the shot and made no mistake going low corner for the 2-0 lead.
With ten minutes left in the game, midfielder Sofia Arcuri dangled through the two Columbia Valley defenders and lofted a ball over the head of the goalie to give Nelson a 3-0 lead which held to the end of the game.
“Our possession game in the first two games was the difference,” said coach Quinn. “We scored five goals, but it could have easily been more.”
With the two wins, the Selects were guaranteed a spot in the Sunday afternoon tournament final. But on Sunday morning the competition was the focus of the why the U13s made the trip: the KEYSA Rovers.
Seven minutes into the game the play was evenly matched when Panko-Dool rambled down the wing and attempted to cross a ball that bounced off the Rovers defender and into the net for an own-goal and a 1-0 lead.
After heavy pressure by Cranbrook during the first ten minutes of the second half, Nelson regained control of the game. Surina took a shot in close that the KEYSA goalie got a piece of, but Panko-Dool pounced on the loose ball to make the score 2-0.
In the final minutes of the game, the Rovers put on big pressure but keeper Quinn kept the ball out of the goal for the 2-0 win.
“Obviously that was a huge boost of confidence,” said coach Quinn. “The girls battled hard and were rewarded for their enthusiastic effort.”
The tournament final was a rematch of the morning game with the host Rovers now looking for revenge.
Though the Selects started slow in the first three games, this wasn’t the case in the final where they controlled the first half from the opening whistle. Five minutes in, defender Allison Bendis jumped on a loose ball just outside the 18-yard box and pounded a shot over the KEYSA goaltender for the 1-0 lead. Ten minutes after that, midfielder Elle Atkinson sprang striker Mattea Lorenzo-Langevin on a breakaway and the speedy forward made no mistake going low corner for the 2-0 lead.
In the second half, the Rovers put on a desperate push in the last ten minutes and with five minutes remaining were rewarded when their striker scored on a breakaway that just went off the fingertips of keeper Quinn. The remainder of the game provided the most exciting moments of the weekend and ended in the final seconds when Nelson defender Julia Burkart accidently headed a ball towards her own net, but Quinn’s reflexes were up to the task to prevent disaster and the game ended 2-1.
“It was a total team effort on the weekend,” said coach Quinn. “But our defence, anchored by Julia [Burkart] and Emily [Taylor] was the big difference. To only allow one goal in the tournament is a testament to just how strong the entire backline was in all four games.
“This group of girls will be playing against that Cranbrook team in big games for many years to come and with both teams being so close in skill level, it’s going to be an exciting rivalry.”