"The ball comes to you; do not do this," Bernard Messegeur says to the Whistler Secondary School girls soccer team, lifting his leg awkwardly. "Get behind the ball instead. And talk to each other."
Telling 13-17 year-old teenage girls to talk to each other shouldn’t be a tall order, but it’s something Messegeur repeats again during a break in play on the first day of soccer season.
It’s the short season that bothers the coach, only five games to play before heading to the zone tournament at the end of May. Today they’re playing Pender Harbour on a still damp and soft Whistler Secondary playing field.
The team includes players from the school’s five grades and that cross-section of ages can be a challenge, says senior right-forward Jenna Romanin.
"We get new people joining the team every year so it’s hard one year when you’re gelling as a team and then the next year you get new people," said Romanin, a five-year team member.
Romanin said they had a strong senior contingent on the team last year that landed them 11 th place in the provincials, but this year presents more challenges.
"Because of the weather our fields are closed for winter so Vancouver teams get to practice twice as long as us and they’re the most challenge for us," she said.Tori Whitney, Connor Warnock, Jake Balzarini, and Deborah Bayliss, members of Whistler Secondary mountain bike team, practice at Lorimer Road sandpit, with coaches Sean Bickerton and Eric Crowe following. Photo by Maureen Provencal
Geography is a challenge for Whistler’s mountain bike team too, who waited for snows to recede before they could get out on the trails.
Twelve of the 20 team members are at the Lorimer Road sandpit picking up skills from coach Sean Bickerton, local legend Eric Crowe and teacher/coach Miriam Bride.
Whistler Secondary hosts the B.C School Sports Mountain Bike Championships May 27, with over 450 racers from 40 provincial secondary schools participating. Quite the coup for a school that only last year sent its first team to the races.
With a Whistler Off-road Cycling Association (WORCA) $500 donation and a vehicle loan arranged by local RCMP, the team managed to put two racers on the podium last year. This year WORCA has again donated funds so the team can participate in the tournament they’re hosting.
The Ministry of Education doesn’t provide funding for school teams, Whistler Secondary’s principal says.
"If a team needs to get on the ferry to go to a game on the Island, they have to pay their own way," Bev Oakley said.
Money for uniforms is raised through vending machine sales, and in a pilot project approved by the school board most school teams are coached by parents, as there just aren’t enough teachers to cover all the sports.
Mountain biking is an exception, as the team is coached by teacher and Canada Cup series medal winner Miriam Bride.
"This is really the first time we can call this a team," Bride said. "They really enjoy riding together and supporting each other and just need gentle management."
The not-so-gentle terrain provides harder lessons, says Grade 8 racer Patrick Taillefer.
"It’s not fun to fall," he said, adding he prefers cross-country course trails over downhill.
Fifteen-year-old Victoria Whitney says she also needs to face the downhill.
"Sometimes I go a bit slower than I could through corners," she said.
Whitney will compete in next month’s 67 km Test of Metal race, one in the three-part Hell of a Race series.
"It’s a way of training not just on my own," she said about the school’s mountain bike team. "I mostly road race but I’d like to get more into mountain biking."