PORT McNEILL—This time, the North Island Secondary School girls soccer team can compete without distraction.
The NISS team begins play today in the Provincial Girls A soccer championships in Rossland after qualifying for the high school tourney for the fifth time in six years.
In at least two of those previous appearances the team was left short-handed on the final day of play as Grade 12 players scrambled to make travel arrangements back to the North Island for their graduation ceremony.
Last spring, the team did not even make the trip after qualifying, due to the tourney’s conflict with grad, but the school has since shifted its leaving ceremony date to the second Saturday in June, leaving the squad’s five grads —Karina Cann, Kimberly Cardwell, Natalie Chester, Tassann James and Jenna McMahon — free to try for a second straight berth in the provincial final.
In their last appearance, in 2011, the team took home the runner-up trophy in the 16-team tournament.
Provincials may be especially challenging for Cann and McMahon, who stepped up to share goalkeeping duties after the team entered the season without an established goalie. And Cann returns to the pitch after a year away from the game while attending school in Spain in 2011-12 on a Rotary Foreign Exchange visit.
“Both our goalies just stepped up this year, because we didn’t have one,” team manager Kathy Mitchell said. “They’ve done an amazing job.”
The pair combined to allow only one goal through their first three games in the Vancouver Island A championships, held at NISS two weeks ago. That run ended in a 4-1 loss to Glenlyon Norfolk School that left the Norsemen with the second of the Island’s two berths to provincials, but Mitchell said the final score was deceiving.
“It was not a lopsided game,” she said. “There was a lot of back-and-forth. They just got three quick goals in the first half.
NISS actually led the game 1-0 on an early goal by Jenna Cowan, but Cowan is likely to miss this week’s provincials due to an injury sustained later in the Island final.
Still, this year’s team seems deep enough to absorb the loss. Head coach Dwayne Rudy said during the Islands that this team has more “finishers” than at any time since he began coaching the program.
NISS will need them; the school faces a tough road to the finals. Among the teams in their four-school round-robin pool is Immaculata of Kelowna, which swept to the B.C. Catholic Schools girls soccer championship earlier this month and which won three straight provincial championships from 2007-09.
“We’re seeded No. 3 in our pool,” said Mitchell. “It will be a tough one to get out of in the No. 1 position, but I think if the girls set their minds to it, they can do it.”