Provincial run hits Charles Best bump

Sardis Falcon Rochelle Esterhuizen (right) battles a Charles Best player during a AAA senior girls Fraser Valley playoff match Wednesday. The Falcons lost 3-2 but are nonetheless heading to provincials June 2-4 in Kamloops.

In Sardis secondary school’s run to the senior girls soccer provincials, just about everything has gone as planned.

An unbeaten regular season (7-0-1) has been followed by playoff success.

The Falcons came into this week ranked seventh in the province, guaranteed a provincial berth regardless of what happens from here on out in the Fraser Valley playoffs.

So, in the grand scheme of things, a 3-2 home field loss to the Charles Best Blue Devils on Wednesday should be taken for what it was, a loss that doesn’t have an awful lot to do with anything beyond provincial seeding.

And if the Falcons are as good as they hope they are, it shouldn’t much matter whether they enter the year-end tournament as the top seed or the bottom seed.

Still, for a team that has grown used to thwomping hapless opponents, Wednesday’s game did reinforce one valuable lesson. At this time of year, anything less than the A game won’t get it done.

“We need to know there are aggressive teams and we need to come out strong and not give up,” said midfield Dani Rushke afterwards, talking about lessons learned. “We need to be first to the ball at all times and always have possession. That’s something I hope we all learned today.”

The Blue Devils came through the AAA regular season with a 6-0-2 record, playing fast and physical soccer to place second in the north zone standings behind Centennial.

They are good, and in the opening minutes the two teams went back and forth on the Sardis secondary school pitch.

It was the Falcons opening the scoring at the 25 minute mark on a goal by Alyssia Mitchell.

Josie Amyotte-Kilger did some great work to set it up, darting down the right wing and cutting into the middle with a sliding shot.

The ball was blocked, but Mitchell collected the rebound and floated a rainbow over the head of the Charles Best keeper.

The lead last just two minutes.

The Blue Devils stormed into the Sardis goal mouth and caught the Falcons watching the ball as Arianna Johnston evened the score.

Johnston was a load for the Falcons defence, using her big frame to win ball battles and maintain possession.

“I play against a lot of girls who are all in their 20’s and pretty big,” said Rushke, a recent University of the Fraser Valley signee who is used to tough opposition at the metro soccer level. “But some of our smaller girls, I could tell they weren’t used to facing someone like her.”

Sardis had a chance to regain the lead at the 33 minute mark. A Charles Best hand-ball gave Rushke a free kick from 25 yards out. Her boot evaded the Blue Devil wall but not the keeper, who took it square in the stomach to keep the score knotted at 1-1.

The Falcons kept coming, and forged ahead with three minutes remaining in the first half.

Again, it was Amyotte-Kilger  as the playmaker, zipping down the right wing and sailing the ball across the Charles Best box.

Madison Welsh was waiting on the other side, punching the ball into the goal to give her team a one-goal half-time cushion.

“I actually thought we played pretty good in the first half, worked hard and kept the ball on the ground,” Rushke said. “They were an aggressive team but we were calm. We just had some unlucky bounces that cost us.”

Rushke’s Falcons were warned at half-time that the Blue Devils would come out gunning in the second half. Whether they didn’t listen or just didn’t have the motivation and energy to match, the locals were on their heels for 30 of the final 40 minutes.

Charles Best took seven and a half minutes to draw even on a goal by Ali Trenter. The Blue Devils striker scored off a free kick from 25 yards out, fitting the ball just inside the left goal post.

Trenter had another free kick minutes later, rocketing a shot over the cross-bar from 40 yards out.

Natalia Kacszmarek had a couple nice chances for the Blue Devils, creating havoc on the left wing.

But it was Marla McIlveen producing the winning goal for Charles Best with eight minutes remaining. Sardis keeper Danika Ferris, so strong all season, misjudged McIlveen’s shot from 40 yards out, watching it sail just inside the right goal post.

The Blue Devils shut things down over the remaining eight minutes, plus one minute of injury time, completing the  upset.

A winning result would have had the Falcons playing for third place in the Fraser Valley and a higher provincial seed. The losing result relegated them to a fifth place game on Thursday (after Progress press deadlines).

“I guess we’ll just have to go a bit harder at provincials and kick everyone’s butt,” Rushke said.

One of just six Grade 12 players on the surprisingly youthful Sardis roster, Rushke is excited about the idea of ending her high school career on a high note.

After provincials, Rushke and Ferris will be moving on to post secondary careers at UFV. Another Falcon, Janelle Neil, has been in contact with the University of British Columbia-Okanagan.

“We didn’t make it to provincials in Grade 10 and I didn’t play last year because of all the school work,” Rushke noted. “So it would be fantastic to do it this year. I want it really bad because we’re like a family and all these girls deserve it.”

In her heart, Rushke believes the Falcons have what it takes to take the title, and she can’t wait to get to Kamloops. Provincials run June 2-4 at South Kamloops secondary school.

“I want to go all the way and honestly I think we can” she said. “Charles Best is going to be seeded ahead of us, and we could have easily beaten them. If that’s the measuring stick, I think we have a very good chance.”

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