Timely goals and an ironclad defence was a golden recipe for success for the Fleetwood Park Dragons.
The Dragons roared at the B.C. High School Senior Girls AAA Soccer Championships in Vancouver, rolling undefeated through the tourney before capping the weekend with a convincing 3-0 win over South Delta in Saturday’s gold medal match.
“The girls still haven’t gotten over it; they’re still in shock,” marvelled Dragons coach Sunny Uppal on Monday. “They’re walking around the school with the biggest smiles on their faces and they’re showing off their medals. They don’t want it to be over. I’m in this profession for the kids and things like this are why I love my job. Sharing an experience like this is something all of us will always remember.
It was not an easy path for the Dragons. Fleetwood lost its only game of the season in the Fraser Valley semifinals to Centennial and wound up third. Uppal said that loss served as motivation that carried the Dragons through the B.C. tourney.
More adversity came on the first day of the provincials when rotating job action closed all schools in Surrey on Thursday. Surrey coaches Uppal and Harjot Ghuman were not present for the first two games of round-robin play, leaving former players Rachel Urquhart and Gurveen Clair to handle the coaching duties.
“With the job action and injuries, the girls had a lot going on, but they kept battling,” Uppal said. “I’m not surprised though because our goal was to win the provincial banner. We have a lot of Grade 9s and 10s on our team and even though they were young, nothing fazed them. They were playing in the provincials and they just kept bringing it.”
Fleetwood opened the tourney with a nail-biter against Belmont. The game was scoreless until Ashley Burgess bagged the only goal of the match in the 85th minute to
lift Fleetwood to the win.
In their next outing, neither Fleetwood Park nor McMath could find the back of the net, resulting in a scoreless draw. The Dragons, however, prevailed in a tiebreaking shootout.
On Friday morning Uppal and Ghuman were back directing the Fleetwood bench and the Dragons immediately broke out of the their scoring slump. Harman Billen netted a pair while Jessica Galbraith and Taylor Bearman chipped in with one goal apiece as Fleetwood Park routed Mount Baker 4-0 to clinch first place in their pool.
The semifinal round Friday afternoon featured a Surrey Derby with the Dragons taking on the Panorama Ridge Thunder. The Fleetwood defence was at its stingy best throughout the game, but the Dragons waited until the 83rd minute before finally connecting on the only goal of the game. Burgess cut in from the wing and shook off two defenders before cracking a rising shot into the Thunder goal from 30 yards out “That was a huge win because our goal came against the grain,” Uppal said. “Panorama was putting on a lot of pressure at that point. Harman (Billen) got hurt early in that game. She’s one of our co-captains so that sucked a lot of energy out of us.
Panorama came at us for a long stretch in the second half. We managed to get a counterattack and it paid off. Ashley hit it with the laces and it was a perfect strike into the top corner. It was a beautiful goal.”
In Saturday’s championship finale, the Dragons did not need any more late-game dramatics to capture the championship banner.
Both teams showed some early nerves in the opening 10 minutes before settling down. Fleetwood opened the scoring in the 20th minute when striker Natalie Morin redirected a Simi Lahal free kick into the Sun Devils’ goal.
Early in second half South Delta tagged with a red card when the Sun Devils’ goalkeeper handled the ball outside the box. The Dragons took advantage of the Sun Devils’ misfortune five minutes later by doubling their lead. Lorissa Houle volleyed a Liesanne Musico crossing pass into the South Delta net to give the Dragons some breathing room.
Houle then put the game on ice in the 83rd minute with another well placed volley, this one coming off a pass from Burgess.
“South Delta is always a class act,” Uppal said. “They’re well coached and a strong team so we knew it was going to be a real chess match right to the end. Even when we were up 2-0, we couldn’t relax. South Delta is too good for us to let up at all. When we got the third goal with less than 10 minutes to go in the game, that’s when I knew we were going to win it. Getting up 3-0 with them playing a man down – that’s when I started to feel good.”
The Fleetwood Park defence was perfect throughout the tournament. Playing behind defenders Jordyn Doi, Simi Lahal, Nisha Samra and Emma Parno, goalkeepers Gabrielle Musico and Caitlynn Mackenzie did not surrender a single goal in five tournament games. In the Dragons’ 20 games this season, Fleetwood Park’s defence allowed a total of two goals.
Burgess, a Grade 9 forward, was honoured as the tourney MVP while Morin was named to the Commissioner’s 16 all-star team.