By Howard Tsumura, The Province
TSAWWASSEN — Liesanne Musico, like the rest of the seniors with Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons, finished her high school soccer career over the weekend, safe in the knowledge that she had helped lay the foundation of a burgeoning provincial girls dynasty.
Three straight trips to the B.C. triple-A championship final, and two titles, including the one that came Saturday following a 1-0 win over North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals at Tsawassen’s South Delta Secondary School.
“We have come together like a family where everybody meshes,” said Musico, who next season joins the CIS national champion UBC Thunderbirds. “We never imagined we would get here three times in a row. Winning our first title made us hungry for more, but then we had the heartbreak of losing last year. Today just showed that we can do it, but only if we’re willing to give everything that we’ve got.”
Rival Handsworth, looking for its first title since 2009, was certainly up to the task.
Winless in North Shore league play a season ago, but completely reinvented in 2016 under new head coaach Brian Gibbard, the Royals came into Saturday’s final having surrendered just one goal in its previous four tournament games.
Yet despite carrying much of the play in the opening half, the Dragons were able to score the game’s only goal about 10 minutes before halftime.
Senior Jessica Galbraith, the tournament MVP who next season begins her CIS career at Edmonton’s MacEwan University, sent a well-timed pass in close quarters to teammate Simran Billen, and the prodigiously-talented Grade 9 made no mistake, slotting home the winner.
“It was so exciting getting that lead for my team,” said Billen, who over the weekend, scored her share of big goals but also shone when pressed into duty as a keeper on Friday as Fleetwood Park claimed back-to-back victories on penalty kicks. First, they beat Victoria’s Oak Bay to clinch first place in their pool, before later beating South Delta in the semifinals.
“Simran, we think of her as out little sister,” said Musico. “Today, all of our young players stepped up to play.”
Throughout the second half, Handsworth continued to mount offensive forays, but the more aggressive Fleetwood Park side consistently drained their efforts, breaking up plays with an attacking mentality.
“I tell the girls to work hard, to make the right decisions and be organized and the way they buy in is just beautiful,” said Fleetwood Park head coach Sunny Uppal. “They all play on different club teams, but we always say ‘Dragons on our chests, dragons in our hearts. That is the beauty of high school soccer. This team truly represents everyone in Fleetwood.”
Their road to the Saturday final was anything but easy.
After going to penalty kicks to beat Richmond’s R.A. McMath Wildcats and win their pool on Friday morning, they came back in the semifinals to beat Surrey’s Elgin Park Orcas 1-0.
If not for Billen’s heroics, Gibbard knows his team had a chance to complete a true rags-to-riches story.
“It was a storybook run for us, for a program that didn’t win a regular-season game last year,” the coach said. “I thought we dominated the play today today but full credit to Fleetwood, because (Billen) got on the end of that ball and put it in the net. I know this really sounds cliche, but I feel like today we won the silver.”
Midfielder Karina Little and striker Chelsey Fang were terrific on the day for the Royals.
South Delta, which outscored its opponents by an incredible margin over 21-2 over five games, finished third after its 5-0 win over Elgin Park in Saturday’s consolation round. Oak Bay went to penalty kicks to beat McMath for fifth place after the two teams played to a scoreless draw.