It’s been a long road, but for the first time ever the St. Thomas Aquinas senior girls soccer team is heading to provincials.
STA clinched a spot in this year’s provincial AA championships after defeating Howe Sound Secondary 2-0 Wednesday in a playoff match at Windsor Secondary.
“This is the first time we’ve ever qualified for provincials, so it’s super exciting for us,” said head coach Melisa Savino, who coaches the team alongside Loui Salituro and Fernando Grossling. “You’ve just got to stick with it. Finally our day came.”
After placing first in North Shore league play this year, STA was in the fortunate position to get two shots at making this year’s provincial tournament taking place in Nelson, B.C., in June.
A playoff match against Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate last Monday ended in a 3-1 loss for STA, squandering the squad’s first chance at clinching that spot.
“They’re the defending silver medalists from provincials. We knew we were in tough against them and we gave them a great game. It was close. We ended up 1-1 for most of the game and then they scored off of a couple of free kicks and it ended up 3-1 STM,” said Savino, who has coached the STA senior girls since 2003.
After such a successful season, one where the girls nabbed four wins and one loss in league play and made great strides as a team, she acknowledged that a lot was on the line after losing to STM.
“We were really proud of how the girls played and to be able to bounce back from that loss was tough,” she said. But bounce back they did.
Howe Sound was ranked fourth going into last Wednesday’s game, in comparison to STA’s first place standing.
But Howe Sound had momentum on their side going into the match after coming off a two-game win streak, while STA was still reeling from a tough loss to STM.
“Our season was on the line. It was a do-or-die game,” Savino said. “The same thing was on the line for both teams. … I just told them, ‘More than anything girls, I just don’t want it to end. I want our last game to be played in Nelson, B.C., not in Windsor in North Vancouver.’”
A stunning group performance and two strong goals by STA midfielder Kristinn Black ensured the team’s season would continue.
Black, who is in Grade 10, scored her first goal shortly before the end of the first half to give STA a 1-0 advantage.
“The first one she cut in from the right and it ended up being a bit of a chip over the goalie into the far-top corner,” Savino explained.
With a few minutes left in the game Black sealed the deal with another goal after managing to volley the ball past Howe Sound’s goalie, who had come out to challenge her.
Aside from Black’s prowess on the soccer field – she was also responsible for STA’s only goal against STM during last Monday’s losing match – Savino was quick to praise the talent and steadfastness of the team as a whole this season.
“I think that overall the consistency of the team efforts we’ve been getting is the reason why we’re going to provincials. This isn’t a team about individuals. Everybody steps up and contributes and that’s what they’ve been doing all season,” she said.
Last Wednesday’s STA vs. Howe Sound playoff game wasn’t the first time the teams had squared off with each other this season either.
A tough contest between the two teams May 1 ended with STA squeaking by with a 1-0 win after scoring a last-minute goal.
“I mean, last play of the game, ball down the line, cut back, perfect goal – I mean, that’s what it took to beat them the first time,” said Savino, acknowledging that they were a tough opponent.
She said that focusing on their possession game, keeping the ball on the ground, getting everyone on the team talking and contributing, as well as capitalizing on opportunities were the keys to the team’s success last Wednesday.
Looking onwards to provincials, Savino said the squad hopes to keep repeating their winning formula and continue focusing on what they’ve been doing all season long.
“I feel pretty good about our team, our lineup, how we’ve played so far – I think what’s key for us is to continue working on our passing game and possessions,” she said.
This year’s AA girls soccer provincials are running June 1-3 in Nelson.
It hasn’t yet been decided who STA will be up against in the tournament’s round-robin portion, but in the interim Savino plans to keep the team practising and preparing for the drive up.
After more than 10 years coaching the team, Savino and the team are thrilled to finally be making it to provincials. But now that they’ve clinched a spot, the team plans to be contenders rather than mere participants.
“I don’t think we’re just going to go there to kick the ball around. We want to go there and we want to show, we want to compete and we want to prove to everyone that we deserve to be there,” Savino said. “I think we’re going to accomplish that goal.”