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Sr Boys Soccer: Back-to-back ISA Champions

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Imagine this: you are a member of the GNS Senior Boys Soccer team; you are in Vancouver, playing in the Final of the Independent Schools Soccer Championships (ISAs), and you are trying—for the first time in the boys’ program’s history—to win back-to-back ISA titles. En route to this game, you have defeated St. Michael’s University School (SMUS), Stratford Hall, Shawnigan Lake School, and Collingwood. And now you find yourself in the Final, playing your local rival SMUS for the second time in two days, and you are losing. Heavily. With 10 minutes to play in the Final, SMUS score a 4th goal to make it 4-1. At this point, it would take enormous imagination to envision a situation where—somehow—the team could win or even tie the game. Three minutes later, GNS’s Rhys Fletcher-Berna scores a beautiful goal, looping a volley high to the right corner. This is what most people would call a ‘consolation goal’: a goal scored by the losing team, late in a game, which makes the score more respectable but doesn’t particularly frighten the team in the lead. But then something remarkable starts to occur. The losing team (GNS) does not treat Fletcher-Berna’s goal as a mere ‘consolation.’ They grab the ball from the net and hurry back to midfield. Great belief starts sweeping through the entire squad. Now, SMUS begin to look frantic and start to make errors that they had not been making earlier. On GNS’s first proper attack, about 90 seconds later, they work a series of intricate passes and the ball finds itself at the feet of Mackenzie Cole, Grade 10 BC Team player and phenom. He spins between two players and fires low into the corner of the net. It has gone from 4-1 to 4-3 in just 5 minutes. GNS now has SMUS pinned in their end. Wave after wave of white GNS jerseys crash against the SMUS defensive wall; time, though, is not on GNS’s side. The referee announces “2 minutes to go.” Then there are 90 seconds, then one minute. But with under a minute to play, the pressure pays off: GNS earns a penalty. Tournament MVP Jason Bradbury steps up, converts the shot very coolly, and the unthinkable (the unimaginable) has occurred: GNS has erased a 3-goal deficit in under 7 minutes of soccer. The ISA Final is headed to overtime. Overtime settles nothing, and the sides head to penalty kicks. SMUS shoots first, and scores. Jason Bradbury levels for GNS. SMUS score; then Andrew Hindi levels for GNS. SMUS score again; then Jyotish Khanna levels for GNS. With two shots remaining for both sides, and with the score locked at 3-3, there is a knowledge among all the players that these next shots (two apiece, potentially) are enormously high-pressure and high-stakes kicks. The fourth shooter for SMUS takes a beautiful shot—low and hard to the left corner—but GNS’s goalkeeper, Chris Wieczorek, dives at full stretch and stops the shot. Now, as GNS’s Cole approaches the penalty-spot, he knows that if he scores, GNS will have the outright lead and a major upper hand. He scores with a perfect shot. Now, SMUS must convert their penalty. If they don’t, GNS wins. Their boy appraises the shot for a bit longer than one does normally—it’s a huge kick—but then aims right and appears to have tied the game. But Wieczorek stretches even further than the previous incredible save; he tips the ball wide; and GNS are champions again. ”Only GNS and St. George’s have won the ISAs in the last eight years (but three in the last four for GNS), so I think this win establishes GNS as the top private school soccer power in BC,” said Khanna after the game. “We also now know that anything is possible for this group.” Khanna started playing Senior Boys’ Soccer in his Grade 10 year, so he appreciates just how significant an achievement this is. After the game, Wieczorek—playing in his first Senior ISAs—was humble, as always, praising his teammates for their courage as well as his opponents for a superb contest. Speaking about the difficulty of facing opponents who seem to work even harder to beat our teams, Wieczorek said, “It makes us better. Teams know of this program’s history, and they put that little bit extra into their games against us. But this is a blessing in disguise, and in fact a key feature in allowing us to continue…and build upon a tradition of excellence in GNS Soccer. Grade 10 defender Liam Stanley, a member of the Canadian Para Soccer team and playing in his first Senior ISAs, said, “The final game against SMUS was one of the most exciting games I have ever played. I am so proud of my teammates for the way they fought back.” Fletcher-Berna, the man whose goal started the fight-back, said after, “When I scored the second goal, I saw all of my team mate’s faces light up. With only about 6 minutes to go, I still knew we had a slim chance, but I told myself the comeback was possible.” When asked about his team’s overall performance throughout the tournament, coach Justin Parish said: “The boys experienced a full season of problems in a short period of time! But they worked through those problems together and found a way to become champions. Each game provided a different challenge, but we feel the team has grown from each obstacle it faced. The team displayed immense character in times of adversity, and displayed their technical and athletic abilities throughout the tournament.” Congratulations to the Senior Boys Soccer team: 2013 ISA Champions, and back-to-back winners for the first time!