Coming into his first season with the Capilano Blues men’s soccer team, new head coach Alex Elliott has said from the start that he was intent on building a family, not necessarily a champion.
Winning games is great, he said, but sticking to your core values and working to your utmost abilities as a group is all that you can ask of a team.
Well the results are starting to come in, and the family feeling must be stronger than ever because the Blues just won the PacWest provincial championship Saturday with a 2-1 victory over the Langara Falcons.
The Blues scored early in the final, hosted by Capilano University at Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex West, with Marco Favaro earning a penalty shot in the eighth minute and Adrian Sahagun stepping up to score the goal.
Keith Jackson, named the tournament MVP, increased the lead to 2-0 early in the second half before Langara got one back. The Falcons pressured for an equalizer for the final 30 minutes but the Blues held firm, clinching their third provincial championship in the past four years and 17th overall. Both teams will go to the CCAA national championships, with Capilano coming in as the No. 1-ranked team in the tournament.
“It was important for us to be very cautious with our approach as we wanted to make sure that we went into nationals with the No. 1 seed,” said Elliott. “It was worth it for us playing it a little more cautious and making sure we could control the result instead of really trying to rally up some goals, which is what we were able to do against Langara earlier in the season. … It wasn’t our best game of the season but I think it was an important experience for us to learn how to play in a scenario where it was a must-win. Hopefully that experience will help us going into nationals.”
Elliott took over the team earlier this year, with the Blues coming off a disappointing semifinal loss in last season’s PacWest championships.
“There was obviously a hunger in terms of them wanting more from a result perspective, but there was a real hunger in terms of them wanting more from a program perspective,” said Elliott about conversations he had with his team leaders before the season. “They wanted a more team and family environment surrounding their program, and they wanted a real true buy-in to what they wanted and not just based up and down on results. That was a really nice thing to work with, and creating that family vibe that we were willing to go through wins and losses as a family, not just a group of players.”
The Blues succeeded because they created that family environment, said Elliott.
“You’re going to have ups and downs, whether it’s results-based or a lot of the things that happen behind the scenes within sports environments, but through all that if you can find consistency in your covenants and your core values, then you can continue to succeed, and I think that’s where our strength lies.”
They also succeeded, of course, because they have some super talented players. Jackson, a Seycove Secondary grad, led the league in scoring for the third straight season and was named the league’s Player of the Year to go along with his championship tournament MVP award.
“We just wanted to get him into scenarios where he could score goals,” said Elliott. “Through repetition of getting him into those situations, our expectation is that he finds the back of the net. It’s a testament to the guys, everybody on the squad, that keeps getting him into those scenarios, and it’s great that he keeps providing.”
Hudson Nelles, a Sentinel Secondary grad, also earned a pair of awards, winning top goaltender honours for the regular season and the provincial tournament.
“He made smart choices all game and kept things in control,” Elliott said of the goalkeeper’s showing in the final. “It’s nice to go through a 90-minute game and feel in control of the setting the entire time, that’s a really valuable thing to have whether you’re playing well or not.”
Sahagun, a native of Mexico, was named the top forward at the provincial tournament.
“Adrian is very, very explosive in the wide areas and very difficult to handle in isolation situations,” said Elliott. “He’s a bit of a spark of energy for us, and having a player like that who can isolate defenders and beat them to create quantity of chances in always a benefit. He’s a bit of a firecracker on the pitch and it’s really fun to watch.”
Elliott also credited defender Eric Swanson for his steady play in the final.
“He wasn’t a tournament all-star or anything like that but has been extremely consistent,” he said. “He just controlled the environment very well and structured the game when we needed it. He’s been a fantastic addition to the core group this year.”
The Blues won provincial gold despite playing the final without Patrick Izett and Andres Romo, two players who were both league all-stars this season. Both were out with injuries but both should be able to suit up in the national championships which run Nov. 7-10 at Holland College on Prince Edward Island.
No matter what happens in P.E.I., Elliott is hoping the Blues will face it together as a family.
“We’ve shown that we have a style of play that we’ve all bought into and a commitment to work ethic,” he said. “If we can stick to it and be consistent, we should be able to fulfil our expectations. If we don’t, we’re completely fine with the alternative options, but we just want to match ourselves up against ourselves.”