The improbable becomes reality
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
After 8 weeks of regular season play, the PACWEST wrapped up their soccer season with its annual epic conclusion. This year, the Soccer Championships brought plenty of intrigue and excitement on both sides of the table for the Douglas College Royals. Let’s start with the women!
The Royals women’s soccer team came into the Championships as tournament favourites. The first seed and defending CCAA Bronze medalists were the clear best team during the regular season, finishing with a fantastic record of 7-3-2 to earn them their third regular season title in a row.
Samantha Kell would earn a PACWEST All-Star award for her league-leading eight goals on the season. Senior Michelle Wessa followed suit, earning a PACWEST All-Star for her work in the midfield. But the breadwinner for the Royals this year would be Mikayla Hamilton. After finding her form midway through the season, the fiery striker propelled herself to a PACWEST All-Star award, as well as a PACWEST Player of the Year award.
With their first seed, the Royals earned themselves a date with the VIU Mariners in the first round. In three meetings with the Mariners during the regular season, the Royals had bested them twice and drew once with them. Despite it being a rematch of the Gold medal finals last year, this year’s version of the Mariners was much different.
A nil-nil first half was a dry start to the match for both sides. Alexa Gazzola and Zoe Grace made a couple of pretty saves to keep their respective sheets clean… but that wouldn’t last; at least not for the Mariners. Michelle Wessa struck first blood with a beautiful goal at the 47th minute to give the Royals a 1-0 lead early into the second half. 15 minutes later, Mikayla Hamilton doubled it with a strike of her own. 2-0 up and in control, the Royals guided their lead to a solid victory. The Mariners grabbed a concession goal in the 90th minute to take away Alexa Gazzola’s clean sheet, but two goals from the Royals was enough to take them to the gold medal game.
Awaiting them in the finals was the second-seeded Capilano Blues, which was a surprise to no one. The Blues had confidently defeated the Langara Falcons to earn their birth in the finals. The Blues and the Royals have had quite the rivalry this season, with the Royals taking the upper hand 2-1. It’s only fitting that these two teams would meet up in the finals.
The match itself was a thriller. The Royals and Blues put on an excellent display of defence and coordination expected of the best teams in the PACWEST. In fact, it was so good that neither team could score in the first 90 minutes. The extra 30 just solidified the facts from the game and solved nothing. It was left to penalty kicks to find a winner.
Up first was the Royals. Sam Kell stepped up to take the kick, as she had done all year. She made no mistake, burying the kick to give the Royals the lead. Nikki Gerbrandt was the first to shoot for the Blues, and the first to absolutely get stonewalled by Alexa Gazzola. However, Gerbrandt would make a huge save for the Blues just seconds later to keep her team going.
The Blues would tie on the next kick before Mikayla Hamilton stepped up to take the third kick. She slid a cheeky goal off the post past Nikki Gerbrandt to give the Royals the lead. Dominika Paige attempted to equalize from the Blues but couldn’t beat Gazzola. Gerbrandt would turn away the Royals chance to clinch the game, stopping a shot from Sonali Dholliwar.
Natalie Leclerc equalized the shootout, putting the onus on Alexa Gazzola to bring the Blues back into it. Down to the fifth and potentially deciding shot, the Royals selected Alexa Gazzola to shoot. The keeper buried her shot into the top of the net, give Nikki Gerbrandt no chance to stop it. In or do-or-die situation, the Blues needed to score to keep themselves alive. Sophia Goto stepped up to take the shot for the Blues, only to get stopped by Gazzola for the Royals’ gold medal win.
Alexa Gazzola was named Player of the Game for her heroics. Michelle Wessa earned a tournament All-Star nod, while Mikayla Hamilton clinched an MVP award. The gold is the second for the Royals in three years, and marks their third return to the CCAA National Championships, fourth if you count the team’s guaranteed berth next year due to hosting the tournament.
It’s a fantastic reward for a team that has been so fantastic through the year. Now the team looks onward to the National Championships in Nova Scotia.
The Royals’ men’s soccer team had the undeniably tough job of potentially upsetting two of the best teams in the PACWEST. However, despite the team’s rocky 5-5-2 record on the season, their individual performances were stellar. Nawaf Binsaleh, Quinn Dawson, and Tetsuya Yoshinaga made the All-Star selection. Tomi Fagopngbe took home the PACWEST Rookie of the Year award for the Royals.
However, standing in their way was a very proven program in the Capilano Blues. The Royals’ record against the Blues was a tough 1-2 with the Blues outscoring the Royals 7-4 through the matches. The Royals needed to be excellent to grab anything here. And it just so happens that they were. Nawaf Binsaleh got the Royals started early 15 minutes into the game with a goal to give his team the lead. Five minutes later, Stefan Kamner blaster home the doubling goal. Up 2-0 after 20, the Royals parked the bus and held off the Blues in a remarkable defensive show.
Seven minutes into the second half, Kamner grabbed his second goal, and the third for the Royals. It would be another 30 minutes before anything definite happened. Nick Morello of the Capilano Blues broke the clean sheet for the Royals, scoring the first. Matt Fedak added another one to bring the Blues close, but it came minutes too late. The Royals held on to their third goal to win. Ryo Mizuno made eight massive saves to earn the Player of the Game award as the Royals upset the Blues to move on to the gold medal match.
It was expected that the Royals were to take on the VIU Mariners, but a huge upset meant that the Royals were instead taking on the hosting Quest Kermodes. The Royals’ regular season record against the Kermodes of 1-1-1 meant that this matchup was a going to be a close one.
In terms of the tale of the game, it was the Royals’ offence show. Although they didn’t score in the first half, an own goal from the Kermodes gave the Royals the lead in the 34th minute. Edris Najm tucked away a second goal for the men as they took a 2-0 lead. The second goal seem to break the Kermodes fighting spirit, and it was all too simple to put away the game. A game-winning goal from Tetsuya Yoshinaga in the 87th minute cleared the Royals for a historic finish.
Race Williams took Player of the Game for his efforts. Stefan Kamner earned a tournament Top Forward award for an excellent performance. Tetsuya Yoshinaga brought home the MVP award for the Royals as they beat all the odds to come out on top.
The men’s gold not only earned them a berth at the National Championships at VIU, it also made history. For the fifth time in PACWEST history, an institution took home double gold. It was the perfect cherry on top of what is surely a history moment for the Douglas College Royals.