The boys Grade 7 St. Elias Eagles soccer team had some company on their annual trip to the Super Soccer Northwest Territories School Championships in Yellowknife.
For the first time, organizers were also able to field a girls team for the event.
The tournament, held April 26 to 29, drew teams from across the Canadian territories competing at the Grade 6, Grade 7 and Grade 8 level.
As usual, the Haines Junction teams were near the top of the table and both found their way onto the podium.
The boys team won a bronze medal — their fourth medal in as many years — after finishing third out of 11 teams.
In their debut, the girls team won silver, finishing second out of 10 teams.
Girls coach Cindi Cowie said soccer has been growing in the community over the last decade, meaning more and more girls are playing.
“We just didn’t have the demographics for the girls — the age that we take — so this was the first year they were old enough,” said Cowie.
In years past, the school has fielded a co-ed team for the championships with one or two girls joining the mostly male squad.
This year, there was enough interest to put together two teams, although a handful of Whitehorse-based players also took part to help with numbers.
The girls team of Freya Rowe, Piper Wirth, Brooklyn Miller, Eden Dulac, Lahela Reid, Marley Kinney and Ethny Dulac was joined by Marin Lewis of Whitehorse.
The boys team consisted of St. Elias students Isaac Lawrence, Ethan Thompson, Joby Clunies-Ross, Marshall Boss and Thor Rowe, with Louie Mouchet, Lain Kearns and Liam Keesy joining from Whitehorse.
Cowie said the performance of the girls team was particularly noteworthy in the semifinal, a rematch with Rankin Inlet.
After opening the tournament with a pair of wins against St. Joseph’s School and Chief Jimmy Bruneau School, the Eagles were in tough against a team from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, in their third pool game.
Cowie said Rankin Inlet teams are traditionally very strong and that their players were bigger than the Yukoners.
Rankin Inlet won the game 6-3.
The Eagles would ultimately get the last laugh following a 4-1 victory in the semifinal the next day.
“The girls played so well that game. They wanted it so bad,” said Cowie.
The girls team finished with a 5-2 record overall, with their only other loss coming in the gold medal game.
The boys team opened with wins against St. Joseph’s School and Chief Jimmy Bruneau School. The first loss for the team came on day three, when the Eagles split games against two of the William McDonald Middle School teams.
A 5-4 victory in the quarter-finals earned the team a spot against William McDonald in the semifinals before coming up short in a 7-2 loss.
Cowie said the trip couldn’t have happened without the help of sponsors and fundraisers.
Airfares for the players were supported by the Lotteries Yukon travel assistance program, but a last minute change nearly put a monkey wrench into the whole plan.
Originally booked on an afternoon flight to Yellowknife, an Air North schedule change meant the teams were now set to fly out of Whitehorse at 6:30 in the morning.
“I called and said, ‘How do I get my Haines Junction kids there for a 6:30 flight? Like, we’re getting up at 2 a.m.?’” said Cowie.
The airline in turn supplied two hotel rooms in Whitehorse, meaning the players and coaches were all able to make their flight.
The championships included 110 teams and more than 1,000 athletes competing in 10 divisions over two weekends in April.
Next up for Haines Junction soccer players is the soccer festival on May 26 at St. Elias Community School.
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com