Five teams going to soccer nationals

The outdoor season may be over in the territory, but some of the Yukon teams' biggest games have yet to be played on the pitch.

The outdoor season may be over in the territory, but some of the Yukon teams’ biggest games have yet to be played on the pitch.

This week, the territory has five soccer teams competing at the BMO National Championships with boys’ and girls’ teams competing in the U-14 Cup in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and the U-16 Adidas Cup in Winnipeg, Manitoba, plus the Yukon Selects men’s team will be vying for the Challenge Trophy in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The youth teams are in three-game round-robins to start their tournaments, with the U-14 and U-16 teams each playing games Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. The Selects will start with four round-robin games between Thursday and Sunday.

All five teams have had good seasons, but expectations might be highest for the U-16 boys team heading to Winnipeg.

Two years ago, while competing in the U-14 championships in Newfoundland, the boys produced the best result for the Yukon at the national level, finishing ninth with a 3-2 record.

This year they’re striving for sixth, said U-16 boys head coach Renzo Ordonez.

“We are training very hard and, hopefully, we can give a good presentation over there,” said Ordonez. “We have some pretty tough teams (in our draw), but we are hoping we can beat them.”

The U-16 boys will begin the nationals with a couple tough teams, playing Alberta and Quebec to start before taking on New Brunswick Saturday.

Sharpening the squad’s competitive edge, three of its players gained extra national level experience in August, playing on Yukon’s Canada Summer Games team. Those players are Dillon Vickerman, Caleb Kelly, Theoren Richards plus alternate Robbie Borud, who didn’t travel with the team to PEI.

The Yukon U-14 girls’ team has been honing their skills with four tournaments this season in BC and Alaska. But with Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba as competition for the round-robin section of the tournament, they arguably have the toughest draw out of all the teams from the territory.

“We’re in a tough pool – absolutely no question about that,” said U-14 girls co-head coach Dave White. “Quebec always has extremely strong teams; not only are they strong teams in terms of technique and skill, but they’re always physical teams as well.

“Manitoba has a strong soccer program as well, so there are no easy games.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge and I think the girls are mentally up for it as well.”

According to U-14 boys head coach Arnold Hedstrom, facing at least one top team is inevitable.

“Everyone is going to play a Quebec, an Ontario, a BC or an Alberta, and it’s based on your seeding from the previous nationals in your age group,” said Hedstrom.

The U-14 boys team will begin their stay in Sydney with games against Alberta, Manitoba and PEI.

Over the summer, the U-14 boys travelled to a pair of tournaments, going 1-1-2 at both events, including the Midnight Sun Tournament in Fairbanks, Alaska, where they played up an age group and beat a team from North Pole, Alaska.

“So we actually were able to shut them down,” said Hedstrom. “To me, that was representative of what we can and should do against a team like Alberta. We should be able to shut them down and keep the score low.”

Keeping a low score will likely be the strategy of many teams since final placements will often be determined by goal-differentials.

Unlike the other Yukon teams, who begin the round-robin with tougher teams, the U-16 girls team will start with their best chance for a win in the round-robin, facing Nova Scotia before playing BC and Manitoba.

“A lot of these girls have competed at U-14 nationals, but not in the same years,” said Monique Bennett, head coach of the U-16 girls.

Not only have many of the U-16 girls competed nationally in previous years, seven players played at the Canada Summer Games, including Avery Enzenauer, Katie Lowey, Mary Bennett, Kendra Murray, Stephanie Pike, Terri Publicover and Shannon Thompson. At the Games, Publicover scored a pair of goals and Lowey also registered one.

“This is a fairly experienced group; seven of them competed at the Canada Summer Games,” said Bennett. “They competed well in three of those four games (in PEI) and that was a U-19 (tournament). So the girls should do OK.”

However, on top of that, in June the girls finished fifth out of 10 teams in a U-17 tournament in Bellingham, Washington, and also took silver in the Langley Labour Day Tournament in BC in the highest, metro division.

With a silver in the Alaska Cup in August, the Yukon Selects look poised to give Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and PEI hard times on the pitch in Saskatoon. But things would look more promising if the team was not missing valuable players, said Selects head coach Spencer Rich.

“Unfortunately, we have about seven players that couldn’t be released from their colleges and universities, so we don’t have quite the team we would have had,” said Rich. “But we’re still going and it’s going to be fun.”

The Selects will still have three players from the Canada Games team, with Walker Ewing, David Ratcliff and Alexander Johnston on the roster. But even a Dream Team of Yukoners would have their work cut out for them, said Rich.

“Any Yukon team going to a national competition is tough,” said Rich. “What else can I say? It’s going to be tough.”

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