The players who currently make up the Campbell River Tier 3 Strikers U-14 boys rep program have taken their lumps over the past couple of years, but the program’s determination to play its own game and stick to its player development method has paid dividends this season.
The U-14 squad is the combination of the last two years of U-12/U-13 teams, according to Strikers co-coach and president of Campbell River Youth Soccer Association Al Rimell, and they’ve come together as a cohesive unit thanks to those two years of struggle.
“The entire province plays 11-a-side, but here in Upper Island league, in order to improve the training of our kids, we play 8-a-side,” Rimell says. While the smaller sides increase development, he says, there is one complication: they need to have two teams, so they need 24 players, which is sometimes difficult.
“If you only run one team of 12 players at the U-12/U-13 levels, then you still only have 12 players ready when they get to U-14 and start playing 11-a-side, so what you have to do is have two squads so that when they get to U-14, you can shrink that down into one squad. That may sound simple, but it’s extremely difficult,” he says with a slight chuckle.
The other decision they made that is paying off, he says, was not to split those 8-a-side teams into an A and B squad, but instead balance them evenly.
“There are A and B teams all over the Island, where organizations make one strong team and another that’s basically there for decoration. We build two balanced teams, because we feel that helps the development of the players. But it also meant we spent two years in U-12/U-13 where whenever we came up against those unbalanced teams, we’d just get thumped.”
But their dedication to the idea paid off.
“It was tough, but we just focused on ‘are we getting better? Are we learning our rotations? Are we understanding what we’re doing?”
And when the teams combined into one U-14 team, they were better off for it, Rimell says.
“Around Christmas time this season, you could see that this was a house on fire. These kids were figuring it out.”
And they were winning. In fact, they won their way all the way to the North Island championship – the Pacific Development Cup. “We went over to Powell River and won the cup on their home turf 4-0,” Rimell says. “Then we came back here and ended up having to play them again to get out of our district in the Coastal Cup stream – which is the Island and Lower Mainland championship – and we beat them 7-0.”
So then they were off to Victoria to play Juan de Fuca to try to continue their way through the Coastal Cup stream and earn a berth in the provincial championship. They won that game 5-2 with a shortened roster and down one coach.
They ended up losing their next Coastal Cup match against the Westburn Galaxy, which knocked them out of that championship stream, “but there was still the Islands.” But they would have to take down the powerhouse Cowichan Valley squad to make it through that tournament, which was a big ask.
“They were an absolute powerhouse all season. They went 13-2 and had over 40 goals for to only 11 against,” Rimell says. But the Campbell River squad managed to pull out a shootout win after the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
So now the Island Champions prepare for the Provincial Championships in Vernon in July.
How do you keep your edge when there are two months betwee competitive matches?
“That’s the tough part,” Rimell admits. “But thankfully the Tier-2 Riptide has qualified three teams for provincials, as well, so we’re going to team up with them for about five weeks out of Comox to get all the teams up to the level they’ll need to be at. That’s going to be a real bonus.”
The provincials run from July 5-9 in Vernon, so watch for the team to be around town doing various fundraisers between now and then.