The Stelly’s Stingers have won two straight Ryan Cup heart-stoppering shootouts, and will now attempt to win it all in the Lower Island Senior Girls Soccer city championship final.
The Stingers squeaked by the defending cup champion Belmont Bulldogs 3-2 on penalty kicks, in an extremely hard-fought semifinal at the University of Victoria on Thursday. The teams ended regulation even at 1-1, then each scored a goal in extra time.
In the other semifinal, the Oak Bay Breakers took advantage when it counted and downed the Reynolds Roadrunners 3-0. The Breakers and Stingers will decide who gets their named etched on the Ryan Cup on Tuesday, in a 3:45 p.m. kickoff on the UVic turf.
“It was a gutty performance by everyone on the pitch,” said Stelly’s goalkeeper Shavonne Barchen-Hobson, whose huge last-second save in extra time sent the game to PKs. She also took her team’s first penalty kick. “We won the ball when we had to, and dug it out, for a really great match.”
The extra motivation for Stelly’s was a yellow shirt, emblazoned with a big No. 7, hanging up on the fence behind their player’s bench. The shirt, and the black armbands worn by all the players, were in honour of coach Jackie Cunningham’s mother, Glenna Cunningham, who died last weekend. The elder Cunningham was a dedicated fan, and accompanied the team on a trip to Hawaii at Christmas.
“She was a big supporter. She was always there for Jackie and her kids and for us when we needed her. We know who we were fighting for,” said Barchen-Hobson, who looked down at her armband for inspiration during the shootout. “I said, ‘Let’s do it together.’ ”
The game was a thriller from start to finish, with close calls and great plays at both ends. And despite the unaccustomed temperatures of the hot day, the players picked up the intensity as the game went on.
“It went in waves,” Belmont coach Bud Livingstone said, proud of his team that finished first overall in the triple-A league and will contest the Island championship in two weeks. “They were down twice, and they never quit.”
Stelly’s struck first at the 25-minute mark when Alynn Dagg, who has been lethal on her cornerkicks this season, landed the ball right in front of the net, and Frankie Chatwin deflected it home. Minutes later, Belmont almost got the goal back, but Barchen-Hobson was able to make a diving stop, landing in a heap with a Bulldogs player.
Near halftime, though, Belmont’s Katie Rufh converted a beautiful tic-tac-toe play that was executed to perfection, sending the teams to the break even at 1-1. In the second half, Belmont defender Lindsay Hargreaves, who recently committed to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was a gatekeeper, thwarting many a solid Stelly’s attack, and the Bulldogs had a shot bang off the crossbar late in regulation that might have ended it.
Instead, it was extra time, and Stelly’s drew first blood again on a Nina LaFlamme goal that sailed over the head of Belmont ’keeper Emma Stewart. Stelly’s, recent winners of tournaments at UVic and Campbell River, thought they had clinched it, but the Bulldogs came back again. This time, Tate Stevenson worked her way through the defence to lock it at 2-2 and force the shootout, before Barchen-Hobson held them off.
“I think we fought hard, and we worked as a team,” Dagg said, in her final high school run before attending UVic and the Vikes training camp next season. “We lost to Belmont in this exact game last year to go to the final.
The other semifinal was closer than the score indicated, said Oak Bay coach Brent Garraway. The Breakers, dressed in bright pink jerseys as part of their year’s fundraising efforts for the B.C. Cancer Society, weren’t able to get to the net until the second half.
“It was an extremely high level of play,” Garraway said. “We just took some chances in the second half.
“All four of these teams are so equal this year, it’s whatever team capitalizes on their chances.”
Oak Bay capped the contest with goals by Kivell and Grade 10 forward Holly Goodacre.