They did it with gusto.
Buoyed by a strong lineup mixed with seniors and young up-and-comers, the St. Thomas More Knights survived a few scary moments along the way to winning the B.C. AA senior girls soccer title last week in Campbell River.
Undefeated through the short high school soccer season, the Knights nonetheless had to change pace at times during the three-day tournament, which was capped with a 4-0 victory over the host Carihi Tyees.
“It was such an amazing feeling because we deserved this championship so much. The way we played in the semifinals and the finals that we were the best team there,” remarked co-captain Kyara Armenta on the win, which saw the Burnaby squad put the first goal up about the 15-minute mark, when she finished off a nice play from forward Kaya Crescenzo. Five minutes later, it was Crescenzo with her first of two, followed by a penalty kick five more minutes later, off the boot of Sara Smyth.
Crescenzo completed the offence in the second half as the squad picked up its second B.C. title in three years.
“I’ve been blessed to have some really good players. We practise quite a bit, and the kids come to practice and put in the commitment,” remarked coach Carlo Zavarise. “That helps us when we have some talented teams to compete for a championships. When we’re not as talented it at least gives us a chance to get there. It’s all because the kids work at it.”
After winning the Catholic championships in early April, the team collected a independent league playoff title. Entering the provincials, hopes were high, as were the stakes. They received a good test right away.
“We started just terrible. (Hugh) McRoberts was a very good team and we scratched out a 1-0 win – where if we lost or earned a tie would have been fairer to McRoberts,” said Zavarise.
They followed that with victories of 6-2 and 5-2 over L.V. Rogers and Ballenas, propelling them into the semifinal against rival Archbishop Carney. Once again, the Knights faced some adversity, but pushed through en route to a 3-1 victory.
“When (Carney) scored in the first half that pushed us to keep going, to play even harder,” noted Cassia Di Girolamo, the Catholic tourney MVP. “That we won 3-1 gave us a lot of confidence (heading to the final).”
Smyth beat the Carney goalkeeper on a penalty kick drawn by Grade 9 striker Luciana Andrews to tie it up, while Andrews later scored the game-winner in the second half. Gigi Gaspar tallied the team’s third goal, setting the stage for the final showdown with Carihi.
Smyth would be named to the Commissioner's 11 all-star team, while Crescenzo was voted the provincial tourney MVP.
The eight graduating players have virtually enjoyed a four-year run that saw them win two gold (2019, ’17) a silver (2016) and bronze (2018). Last year’s loss in the semifinal served a purpose this time around, sparking them just a little more.
“We were so disappointed last year because we kind of felt we let it get away from us. So to come back as focused as they were and determined as they were was satisfying. You always want to see how your athletes bounce back from adversity, and these kids sure did that,” said Zavarise.
“I think that was also the thing we wanted to do, to win because last year we lost in the semis," added Di Girolamo. "That was a big letdown for the team. We felt we could have won last year as well."
And while some high school programs have issues regarding metro and premier league players being forbidden from playing with their high school teams, Zavarise said right from the outset his request for full commitment was accepted by the players.
“We’re a Catholic school but I think the girls lie to their club coaches, because they play,” he said, laughing. “I say to (the players), ‘Look, if this is an issue, don’t play.’ I don’t want kids who come in and out, yoyo in and out of games. I need a commitment, and by and large the best players play for us.”
The STM Knights are: Julia Andrews, Luciana Andrews, Kyara Armenta, Gabriella Bellini, Rachel Benedet, Lauren Cadiente, Kaya Crescenzo, Cassia Di Girolamo, Giulianna Gaspar, Isabella Gaspar, Tyra Gunara, Sienna Mastromonaco, Mackenzie Pereira, Lilian Philipp-Tajcnar, Victoria Rogers, Vanessa Salzano, Clara Scaglione, Breanne Shuster, Kate Smith, Sara Smyth, Ava Wagner, Chelsea Yang. Coaches are Carlo Zavarise, Steve Garland and Maggie Soares.