Parity name of the game in Lower Island high school girls soccer

When it comes to the Lower Island Senior Girls triple-A soccer season this year, nobody is making any predictions. It’s expected to be just that close when the whistle sounds for the beginning of the regular season today.

The battle for supremacy starts immediately, too, when the highly regarded Oak Bay Breakers and Belmont Bulldogs tangle on the first day of action at 3:30 p.m. on the Hampton turf.

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“It might be the most even league we’ve had in years,” said Oak Bay coach Brent Garraway, whose Breakers were provincial silver medalists last year, losing the B.C. final 1-0 to the Argyle Pipers. “Belmont, Claremont, Stelly’s — they all have exceptional players.

“The level is outstanding.”

The Breakers lost several veterans off last year’s squad, but retained strong leadership to help the younger players get on track. And they have an added incentive. The girls will be wearing pink uniforms and pink socks, and plan to raise money for breast cancer research.

“We have a brand new set of green and white uniforms, but they’re going to stay in the closet for 12 months.”

Players will try to each get 10 sponsors, who’ll donate a set amount, or $1 a goal, with a target of $5,000.

“We thought we’d go the extra step this year,” said Garraway, who has Grade 11 forwards Holly Goodacre and Meaghan Kivell up front. The pair were instrumental in the run to the provincials last year. “They’re going to be relied on to raise most of the money.”

The Oak Bay midfield is solid with Sabine Boisvert, Ashley Dukeshire (daughter of former Vikes basketball great Kelly Dukeshire) and Natasha Gutierrez forming the core of the group.

“The key is to keep building and see where we get to.”

While Oak Bay is among the favourites this season, Belmont is looking for a repeat of their exceptional season last year, but this time they’re aiming at the provincial tournament. The Bulldogs went undefeated through league, city and Island championship in 2013, but lost out on a B.C. berth thanks to one goal, in a tiebreaking formula that counted goals against.

“They dominated. They played amazingly well, just had that one goal go in,” said Belmont coach Bud Livingstone, expecting a talented core group and athletic up-and-comers to power the team. Tonight’s game will be a good test.

“It’ll be a good indication of where we’re at.”

The Bulldogs had several players graduate, but remain solid from back to front, with goalkeeper Emma Stewart, defender Lindsay Hargreaves and attacker Marissa Livingstone.

Livingstone, like several of her teammates, is a product of the Victoria Highlanders program. Her experience playing with the senior women is the norm across the high school league as many players are receiving top-notch coaching in the community.

“The girls are getting extra training playing with high level teams,” Livingstone said. “I think it’s elevated the level of the league.”

Stelly’s, which finished seventh in B.C. last season, begins play against Reynolds, 3:30 p.m., at Braefoot, Claremont visits Mount Doug (field is still TBA) at 3:30 p.m., and Spectrum is at Vic High, starting at 3:45 p.m. The AA/A league gets underway on Tuesday, and games for both divisions run Tuesdays and Thursdays until Ryan Cup playoffs begin at the end of April.

sepp@timescolonist.com

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