They shedded their underdog label in a big way.
The Douglas College Royals men's soccer team rode a strong finish at the PacWest championship final all the way to a polished run at the national championships, with only a loss to host Vancouver Island in the final denting their veneer.
Having fallen out of the top-15 national rankings in late September after a sketchy start to the season, Douglas ended up falling just a goal short of winning it all.
A miscue early in Saturday’s final, which saw the Mariners’ Stefan Cukovic intercept a Douglas pass and bury it 14 minutes into the contest, gave the host team a lead it protected.
While the Royals held an advantage over much of the remaining 75 minutes, they were unable to capitalize. A goal 10 minutes into the second half was ruled offside.
“We felt if we played our game and stuck to our system it would give us a good chance,” noted Douglas co-coach Robby Toor. “Losing 1-0 on basically an own goal was very frustrating, but you have to give Vancouver Island credit, they defended well and weathered the storm.”
To get to the championship final, the Royals knocked off the Keyano Huskies, the Alberta Colleges’ champion, 2-0 in the semifinal. Picking up player-of-the-game honours for the B.C. champions was Race Williams.
Douglas opened the tournament by edging the Algonquin Thunder 2-1, with Quinn Dawson earning the player-of-the-game award.
In the final, Tetsuya Yoshinaga was voted the team’s top player.
"We wore the underdog label but never believed that we were true underdogs," said Toor. "We always believed we were good enough to get there. ... Our goal all year was to win the provincials and get to the nationals."
Earning all-stars were goalie Ryo Mizuno, Dawson and Williams.
Toor said as tough as the loss was, the whole season proved satisfying despite a difficult start, some injuries and the dynamics that come with a very young lineup.
It began with just one win in the first six games, but saw them catapult to a provincial title two weeks ago.
“The season certainly had its ups and downs,” added Toor, who shares the head coaching duties with Paul Bahia. “We kind of had an unlucky start, but we grew together and as we got healthier we kind of found a rhythm and got on a hot streak.”
The provincial gold and national silver results will pay dividends next year, with as many as 18 players eligible to return, said Toor.
ROYALS FINISH FIFTH AT WOMEN’S NATIONALS
What the Douglas College Royals women’s soccer team took away from last week’s Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association national championships wasn’t something for a shoebox to look at later in their old age.
The lessons learned in placing fifth overall will be withdrawn next year when Douglas hosts the 2018 national championships.
The Royals launched the eight-team tournament with a 1-0 win and ended it the same way, beating Grande Prairie Wolves to place fifth.
Likely the most important experience came in the other two games, losses against squads that finished first and third overall.
In the championship semifinal, coming off a strong outing against Northern Alberta in a 1-0 win, Douglas provided No. 1-ranked and eventual Canadian champ Elans de Garneau with some firm resistance in a 1-0 decision. The Quebec team had a solid edge in play, as Royals goalkeeper Alexa Gazzola was chosen Player of the Match.
In their first consolation bracket test, the Royals fell 2-0 to the Algonquin Thunder. Earning Player of the Match honours was co-captain Michelle Wessa.
Rebounding from those two decisions, the B.C. champs replied with a 1-0 win over Grande Prairie.
In the opening win, Burnaby’s Martina Pettenon, a first-year Royal, struck for the game’s only goal 10 minutes into the second half. She would be chosen Douglas’ Player of the Match.
Earning all-Canadian honours were Mikayla Hamilton and Sam Kell, while first-year defender Ashley Bristow picked up an all-star award.