Special to the Mirror
Only two teams qualified for the Junior edition of Island Championship from the North Island in 2018.
The No. 1 ranked Carihi Tyees’ squad was strong on paper and results that season had indicated that the team would stroll into the next round. A No. 3 North-North ranked Isfeld team that had barely competed during regular season play rose to the occasion. The Tyees were left eating humble pie while Courtenay moved on.
Fast forward a year and Carihi were again facing Isfeld in the first game of North Islands.
The head-to-head record was 1-1-0.
According to the zone allocations, whoever lost that match would likely be eliminated. With the Tyees’ squad full in numbers and energy, they took an early lead. The match ebbed and flowed, but Carihi emerged victorious. That game was the most challenging of the tournament as Carihi beat Nanaimo’s Aspengrove and then Powell River’s Brooks in the final to finish first in the North.
Despite their ranking in the North, expectations were low for the AA team at Islands where teams of all sizes compete.
AAA teams with academies from the South Island such as Reynolds, Oak Bay and Claremont have dominated this tournament in the past and they were again all present this year.
Having missed out on the Champions League of BC junior soccer last year, the Tyees were just happy to make it. Further dampening the team’s prospects was the call-up of free scoring midfielders Sam Borrie and Tsubasa Mukainakano to the senior squad for their must-win games.
The round robin consisted of hosts Brentwood, No. 1 Central, powerhouse Reynolds, No. 2 South, and wildcard nemesis Isfeld, who made the tournament through a backdoor loss of a central team.
First up was Brentwood. Aided by early goals, the Tyees played with confidence and emerged 4-2 victors.
Next up, Carihi met Isfeld for the fifth time this season. The Courtenay team were buoyed by the Tyees’ weakened midfield.
They scored one which was followed by fine saves by goalie Logan Pierce and last-ditch clearances by defenders such as Kazu Iwamoto and Markus Johnson.
Changes were made, including moving the hardworking Sasch Deschenes back into midfield and the team started creating chances.
With three minutes remaining, Isfeld took the ball to the corner flag in an effort to kill time, but in a last-minute moment of grit and determination, Carihi won the ball back.
Isfeld had made the mistake of pushing their defenders forward.
Hail Mary, the ball was sent long to Nacho De Vega who flicked the ball to fellow Spaniard Ignacio Caro Alvarez. Caro remained calm and the deftest of chips beat the onrushing keeper and the final whistle, sent the Tyee bench into rapturous cheering, and earned the team a hard-fought tie.
Our third group game was against Reynolds who typically alternate between finishing first and second at this tournament.
Midway through the game, Ty Ludwikowski stepped up to take a freekick 30+ yards from goal. His kick had so much dip that their goalie remained rooted to the ground as the ball hit the top left corner. This was the difference as the final score was 2-1.
The team that could from Campbell River had made the final ranked first in their group with +3 goal difference and Isfeld second with +2 goal difference.
With energy spent in close group games, the Tyees faced the AAA powerhouse Claremont from Cordova in the final.
The entire Tyee team, including many not mentioned here, played their socks off but came up short of being champions.
Their season finished with a first place trophy from North Islands and a second place plaque from Islands.
Many of the players showed such outstanding qualities that they will be joining the senior squad at provincials later this month.