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One drought will end in 'classic' Jackson Cup final on Saturday

Vic West, Lakehill set to battle at Starlight Stadium
Starlight Stadium will host the Jackson Cup final on Saturday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Frank Woods vividly remembers lifting the Jackson Cup, alongside Canadian 1986 World Cup player Jamie Lowery, the last time Vic West hoisted it in 1989. They may even have cranked up Bust a Move by Young M.C. on the CD and cassette player in the dressing room.

A drought is guaranteed to end Saturday when Vic West plays Lakehill at 5 p.m. at Starlight Stadium in the 2023 Jackson Cup final, the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s version of the FA Cup in England, and which has been contested since 1915.

Lakehill was formed in 1956 in Arsenal gear, with the only difference being the logo in the cannon is facing the opposite direction, and has been the recent-years VISL regular-season powerhouse. The Gunners boast a World Cup alumnus of their own. But Ian Bridge never lifted the Jackson Cup and neither has anybody else in the red and white stripes as Lakehill looks for its first Cup title today.

Vic West has not won it since that March day in 1989, when the Berlin Wall was still standing for another eight months. The Wests hope to hum another tune from that year — If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher — as it looks for its 23rd Jackson Cup championship but first in 34 years. History hangs heavy over this 126-year-old club, the oldest in Canada, and which dominated B.C. and Canadian amateur soccer in its time.

“This has been a long time coming for a club with such a proud history,” said Vic West ­co-coach Derek deGroot.

“This will be a big day out for the alumni. And hopefully a big night back at the clubhouse. This has been the culmination of years of building back up from when the club had fallen to ­Division 4 and won three promotions since 2009 to get back into Division 1.”

The man behind the painstaking climb back was Woods, the former Vic West star and Victoria Vistas CSL pro, who returned in an executive capacity to rebuild the club during the 2010s.

DeGroot, 33, was a part of the process as a Vic West player before and after his U Sports career in Canada West with the University of Alberta Golden Bears. This season, however, presented an even greater challenge with Vic West’s home Finlayson field at Topaz Park out of commission with new turf being installed. Vic West played its home games from Saanich to Sooke.

“We were nomads. We did it the hard way,” said deGroot.

Vic West co-coach Stuart Heath, who helped build the Cape Breton U Sports national champion teams, has used his old Capers connections well. The Wests are led by Marcus Campanile, the Scottish former Aberdeen U-20 midfielder and second overall pick in the 2019 Canadian Premier League draft by Valour FC out of Cape Breton University, and former CPL Pacific FC defender Ryan McCurdy from the Capers. Dan Pritchard is another CPL draft pick playing for the Wests. Salem Almardy led Vic West in scoring with a VISL second-leading 16 goals and scored twice in the 3-2 ­Jackson Cup semifinal victory over Gorge FC.

Lakehill defeated two-time defending champion Nanaimo United 2-1 in the semifinals and believes it is time to do more now than just knock on the Jackson Cup door. It is time finally to blow through it after having won three successive Garrison Cup VISL regular-season championships.

The powerhouse Lakehill lineup features three of the top-four regular-season scorers in the VISL with veteran Gunners’ gunner Paddy Nelson leading the league again with 20 goals, former overseas pro player Blair Sturrock third with 15 goals and former University of Victoria Vikes striker Craig Gorman fourth with 13. Only Almardy crashed this Gunners gallery.

Nelson has an additional three goals in Jackson Cup competition and Sturrock two. Coach Mark Bhopal’s Lakehill club is loaded, thanks to its UVic pipeline, with former Vikes stars Gorman, Jack Hill, Wes ­Barrett, Tarnvir Bhandal and 2019 ­Canada West MVP Isaac Koch abetting Nelson and Sturrock.

“We have been one of the top teams in league play the past five-six years, but have not won the Jackson Cup, and hopefully we get the job done this year,” said Bhandal.

“Cup play is totally different than league play. In league play, you can get by on pure talent alone. In Cup play, you have to dig deeper and battle harder.”

Both historically, and in the season context, this Jackson Cup final is compelling on so many levels. “It is a classic match-up,” said VISL executive director Vince Greco.

Lakehill went 15-1-2 in league play to clinch a third-consecutive VISL regular-season crown with Vic West accounting for two of the only three blemishes with a win and tie against the Gunners in their two regular-season games. Yet, many pundits are rating Lakehill the favourites for Saturday. The Wests (12-3-3) say bring it on and point to the fact they handed the Gunners their only loss of the season.

“We must not be afraid of the occasion and just play our game,” said deGroot.

CORNER KICKS: Norm (Stormin Normin) Richardson, 97, from the 1951 Vic West Jackson Cup championship team will be recognized Saturday at the game.

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