The U16 Williams Lake Girls Storm, for at least the next 365 days, can call themselves the best in the province.
The girls outshone seven other teams from around B.C., winning the final in spectacular fashion, to become the Girls Provincial ‘B’ Cup champions at the Inter-River Park in North Vancouver last week.
“This group of girls has been together for two years, and we have always had this goal in the back of our minds,” said Storm coach Nick Iachetta. “This win is a testament to their dedication and hard work, and is a sign of things to come for Williams Lake.”
Broken into two groups of four for round robin play, Williams Lake — qualifying from Cariboo North — was drawn in group ‘B’ with Coastal qualifiers CMFSC Black Ice (Coquitlam), Vancouver Island qualifiers Prospect Lake Lakers and Columbia-Kootenays qualifiers, the Nelson Selects. The tournament was held over four days between July 4-7.
The tournament began last Thursday for the Storm with a tough loss to Prospect Lake Lakers, when Williams Lake went down 2-0 in the first 10 minutes of the game after a slow start. Despite dominating possession for the next 70 minutes, Williams Lake were unable to get more than one goal back — midfielder Kara Zurak converted a penalty kick after being fouled in the box — finishing the game with a 2-1 loss.
Knowing this now made both their remaining games must-wins to have a chance at the title, Williams Lake emerged the victors after a hard-earned result against a strong Nelson Selects team Friday. Striker Dawn Henley scored both goals in the match.
After Prospect Lake and Nelson Selects tied their match Saturday morning, Williams Lake now had the power to make the finals in their own hands. After an early goal from Henley, the Storm buckled down on defence and, with an outstanding effort from goalkeeper Sam Delacherois, came through with a 1-0 win against CMFSC Black Ice.
Only the second Williams Lake team to qualify for a final at a Provincial Cup since 1987, the Storm drew the Ladner Vipers in the final, who had qualified from group ‘A,’ going undefeated in the process.
Kicking off at 2 p.m., the final drew a large crowd of supporters who lined the pitch for the beautiful, Vancouver day. Two very evenly-matched teams played to a 0-0 tie at half, both building from the back with solid defensive play.
Williams Lake, with a back line of Madison Hordiuk, Natasha Lewis, Morgan Lord and Cassie Abel, had been solid all weekend, protecting keeper Delacherois, and allowing a joint-tournament-low of two goals against in the previous three matches.
After the restart, the game continued to be ground out in the midfield — central players Morgan Schofield, Ashleigh Lyons and Carly Magnuson battling for possession with the Ladner players.
There were opportunities for both teams early — Ladner hit a post, and Williams Lake forced two big saves from the Ladner keeper — while wingers Kendall Jensen, Lexi Pedersen, Cheyanne Stuart and Zurak worked off playmakers Jasmine Baye and Carleigh Walters.
Despite their chances to go ahead Williams Lake were unable to capitalize on the good work of strikers Henley and Teneal Schick, and Ladner capitalized on a chance against the run play with 15 minutes left in the game, firing a blast low past Williams Lake’s keeper.
Knowing it was gut-check time, coach Iachetta instantly made a formation change, bringing off a defender for an extra forward. Taking over the game and creating chances, Williams Lake was fighting the clock as a resilient Ladner defense bent, but wouldn’t break.
With less than five minutes left the Williams Lake coaching team of Iachetta, Luke Moger, Brenda Mann and Trevor Schick threw another forward in the mix, knowing it was all-or-nothing at that point.
After a foul by Ladner just over the half-line, the referee let both teams know there was under a minute left in the game.
Eryn Ritchat-Fontaine then confidently stepped up to the ball and drove a perfect feed into the Ladner box, creating a goal-mouth scramble converted by in-form striker Henley.
As the Williams Lake players, coaches and supporters celebrated the dramatic equalizer, the referee blew the whistle, confirming the kick had been the last play of the game, which was now headed to overtime.
Playing for the fourth time in four days, the 20-minute extra time was an exhibition of mind over matter — the girls battling through injury and fatigue in pursuit of victory. With Ladner and Williams Lake both knowing a mistake at this point would mean the provincial title, the extra time produced little in the way of chances as both teams played it safe.
Extra time solved nothing, and the game was sent to penalty kicks.
After a huge save on the first shooter by Delacherois, Williams Lake held the edge. And after the teams matched the first three penalty kicks, Baye gave the Ladner keeper no chance with a shot into the left sidenetting.
With Williams Lake up 1-0 in the penalty shootout it was Delacherois proving the decisive factor, once again, as she kicked out a leg after diving the right way on the fifth Ladner shooter, clinching the game for Williams Lake.
With her teammates running to celebrate with her, led by injured Ashley Straza, the emotions were obvious as the accomplishment of the team began to sink in.
Mann said it was a special moment to be a part of.
“The girls did this for each other,” Mann said. “They are such a tight-knit group and refused to let each other down. Watching them over the weekend makes me proud to be associated with the team and with Williams Lake.”
Tournament MVP and team captain Schofield led the team to the main stage for the medal presentation and the handing over of the cup.
Moger echoed Mann’s sentiments, adding it’s a significant accomplishment for a team from Williams Lake to win a provincial cup. He added a special thanks is in order to all the friends and family who made the trip to Vancouver to support the girls, and to team manager Shirlie Delacherois.
“It’s pretty special,” Moger said. “The girls have gone up against the best in the province of B.C. and won — they are the champions. They are such a special group of girls and parents and supporters; they have earned their place in Williams Lake history.”