The Pemberton Secondary School Red Devils got stuck in a proverbial Group of Death at the recent provincial soccer finals.
Competing at the Soccer 'A' Boys competition in Nakusp from Nov. 6 to 8, Pemberton lost in its three group-level round-robin games, falling 3-1 to both St. Andrew's and Credo Christian and 2-0 to Aberdeen Hall. However, Pemberton responded in the playoff round, downing Unity Christian 4-3 and Mt. Sentinel 3-1 to end up 13th among the tournament's 16 entries.
Coach Phill Read said muddy field conditions put a damper on the competition, as the soft playing surface aggravated an injury to sniper Maxi Schmitz. Laine Gabriel suffered an injury early on in the tournament, running into the goalpost while trying to defend a play. Gabriel was taken away by an ambulance and spent time in hospital, but ultimately suffered a deep bruise and was able to gut out some playing time for the Red Devils later in the tournament.
Read said the injuries were particularly difficult to handle considering the quality of Pemberton's opponents, but the Red Devils didn't back down.
"They were up against some very tough competition in the pool that we were in," he said. "Some of the soccer that they played, to try to match those teams, it was really good, some of the best I've seen those boys put together."
When running down the list of game results, the coach bristled a bit at the Aberdeen Hall result, knowing the Red Devils weren't far away from a better fate.
"That one hurt," Read said. "There was a penalty, and there was a real close one we should have put away."
Pemberton brought a fairly young team to the tournament, as Read noted Pemberton will lose just six players to graduation next year.
"Some younger players would have some nerves, and there were some older players that had a little more experience at a high level," he said, highlighting Schmitz and goalie Liam Falloon (no known relation) as players familiar with higher levels of play.
With all the injuries, Falloon ceded his position as goalie to play out for part of the tournament as well. For his efforts, he was honoured as the team's most valuable player in the tournament. Read noted one player from each team was selected at the tournament's conclusion.
The Red Devils got scoring from a variety of sources throughout the tournament, as Anthony Liakakos, Thomas Roszypalek, Liam Falloon, Cassidy Pascal and Damon Nelson all tallied goals, while Tristan Curtis, Chris Read, Jacob Field, Ty Archer and Nick Dan all notched assists.
Read noted defender Field was battling through a stiff flexor muscle he developed compensating for a broken femur he suffered last season. Even with the challenge, Read said Field was all over the pitch where he needed to be.
Defensively, Read praised Gabriel and Matthew Denduyf, Lasse Christiansen, Mathieu Ryckbosch, Todd Walsh, Devon Pascal and Geoff Kurtz.
Defender/midfielder Chris Read said with provincial experience under their belts, the flood of returning players will have plenty of confidence as they attempt to make another run in 2015.
"I think we can get to provincials next year quite easily," he said, noting five of the current players train together outside of school on rep teams.
Whistler Secondary did not participate in the tournament.