For Central, it was as smooth as can be -- after their solid showing in the Moose Jaw high school girls league, they were given the number one seed provincially and received an automatic bye into the tournament this coming weekend in Martensville.
Vanier, meanwhile, had business to attend to with the Peacock Tornadoes in a play-in game on Saturday at Sunningdale Field, and they got the job done with a 15-0 win.
It’s an interesting parallel for the Spirits, at least as much as there can be in the pandemic era, as they play some of their best soccer late in the season. The last time something like that happened, they rolled through provincials to claim the gold medal in 2019. As a result, they’re the defending champions heading into next weekend.
“This season is similar to that one in a way, we hadn’t performed as well when it came to league and tournament play but we really turned it up for regionals and provincials,” said coach Daniel Atkins of their previous provincial run. “Hopefully we’ll do the same, but it’s been a weird season with us not being able to play 11 v 11. So now we’re trying to develop that part of our game and bring the intensity and we definitely did that, so I’m happy about that.”
That’s the crux of the situation for many teams in the province. With no tournament play this season, it was all about league action and, quite simply, just getting games in. That meant playing 9 v 9 on many occasions as teams struggled to field players after a full year away from the high school game and with the ongoing pandemic raging along.
“It was basically about sportsmanship and it was a rebuilding year for a lot of teams, we made it really flexible so the coaches could drop to 9 v 9,” said Central coach Shasta McCulloch. “But it was really good to get soccer going again and games going again for the players.”
Just getting things going took a lot of planning by league commissioner Ray Rawlyk, who worked with teams to help get around personnel issues as much as possible. Hence, the 9 v 9 games and as many accommodations as possible.
“Overall, the whole year has gone really well and Ray has done a ton of work to make it come together, being in charge of both the girls and the boys,” McCulloch said. “It’s been awesome.”
Now there’s the task at hand.
For Vanier, it’ll be a matter of taking the field with the same level of focus as they did Saturday.
“We’ll have to see what the other teams have and what we’re up against, but we know we’ll have to play with intensity, stay positive and see if we can do a repeat,” Atkins said.
The Cyclones, meanwhile, will look to keep on keeping on with what’s worked well so far.
“We’re going to have to work hard, but we have all season, and we’ll be trying to have fun as well, keeping the focus on sportsmanship and everything like that,” McCulloch said. “We’re just going to go out there and try our best and see what happens.”