Upper Island Storm U18 player Georgia Nicholls passes to a teammate at practice Tuesday night at Merle Logan Field. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Storm soccer squads contend for provincial championships

Upper Island U18 and U18 rep girls’ sides compete in Surrey this week

An Island soccer Storm is heading toward provincial championships.

Two Nanaimo-based teams – the Upper Island Storm U18 and U15 rep girls’ sides – are competing at B.C. Soccer championships starting Thursday (July 6) in Surrey.

The U18 girls are already Island Cup and Coastal Cup champions so they’ve had plenty of experience already in 2016-17 playing in and winning big matches.

John Lee, coach of the U18 Storm, said the team heading to provincials is a confident group.

“The girls go in knowing they’re expected to win and if they don’t, it’s because they haven’t played up to their standards,” he said. “It puts some pressure on them that way, but I think that the internal pressure’s better than external pressure. It just allows them now to focus on what they have to do.”

The Storm have played just one of the three squads they’ll face at provincials. The opponents have good records and will be good teams, Lee said, but he thinks all are beatable if the Storm play the way they want.

“I’m a firm believer that if we play our soccer, our game and allow the other teams to chase us, that we’re more successful,” he said.

Cara Dunlop, one of the team captains, said the Storm know the level of competition will be high.

“But we’re focused on ourselves more than the other teams. I think we’re strong enough as a team already that it doesn’t matter who we’re going to face…” she said. “Coming off two big wins, the league and the Coastal Cup, I think the ball’s rolling and we’re just going to sail right into provincials.”

This week’s tournament will present a tougher schedule than most of soccer season, with three or four games in three or four days. The challenge, Dunlop said, is “just knowing when to go and when to not … It’s going to be incredibly hot out there, so it’s just knowing when it’s time to give that extra push and when it’s time to lean back.”

Win or lose, about a third of the U18 Storm players will conclude their minor soccer careers this weekend and Georgia Nicholls, a Storm captain who is aging up, said provincials is “a nice send-off.” But playing for the U18 A Cup, minor soccer’s greatest prize, is motivation for every player on the team.

“This has definitely been a goal [but] we were taking everything step by step and then when we realized we can make it, we definitely pushed very hard to get here,” Nicholls said.

The U15 Storm are also contenders at A Cup championships. They’re a group that’s played a lot of soccer and want to extend this season as far as it will go, too.

Last year as a U14 entry, the Storm completed the triple crown, winning the Island Cup, Coastal Cup and B.C. Soccer A Cup. Weeks later, it was already time to regroup as a U15 side and start anew.

The U15 Storm won the Island championship again and lost out in a shootout in the Coastal Cup quarterfinals. Coach Bobbie Taylor said those playdowns were a character builder and the Storm emerged a smarter team.

“We feel quite confident going into the championships…” she said. “We’ve had to plan smartly and make sure we’ve had good breaks, but we’re going in strong and fit and we’re ready for it.”

The team doesn’t have any real superstars, said the coach, but rather a diverse mix of skill sets and versatile athletes.

“I think you can always depend on their compete level,” Taylor said. “They show up, no question.”

GAME ON … The first match for the U18 Storm is Thursday against the Kamloops Blaze. The first action for the U15 Storm is Thursday against Surrey Guildford United. For more information, click here.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com