Aztecs extract potential, clear hurdles en route to B.C.s

The road from point A to B isn’t always straight forward.

For the Alpha Aztecs senior boys soccer team, it’s been a route enriched with experiences.

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Those experiences are now going to include the B.C. AA championships next week in Burnaby.

It isn’t that the Aztecs are flying under the radar – the AA circuit hasn’t had any official polls listed on the chief high school sports blog www.varsityletters.ca – but there have been hiccups and injuries through their journey that suggest luck would have to play a part in getting to the B.C.s.

By edging the St. Thomas Aquinas Fighting Saints 1-0 last week, Alpha locked up the zone’s No. 2 berth to the tourney that starts Monday.

“A very hard fought game with chances on both sides. Our goalie (Nickolas Vavaris) made some tremendous saves near the end to preserve our win,” remarked coach Antonio Dal Sasso.

The coach’s sons, Luca and Stefano, combined for the game’s only goal, with a long ball from the eldest chested by Stefano, who drilled it from 20 yards out with 15 minutes to play.

It came nearly a month after their last big win – a 4-0 victory over Burnaby North in league play.

That fact doesn’t underscore exactly the obstacles Alpha has faced, nor the potential that coach Dal Sasso saw when the season began in September.

“The team is getting stronger as the season progresses. We had a few blips during the season where we lost some games that we pushed and had no business losing,” he said. “We have had players missing and some injuries to key players, but this has also given the chance for others to succeed.”

In league play, the Aztecs were middle-of-the-pack 2-2-3 against mostly AAA-level teams. Their primary AA rival, Cariboo Hill, prevailed in their lone encounter, so when the playoffs began it looked like Alpha had big hurdles to clear to capture that rare provincial ticket.

A 3-1 loss to Windsor, who clinched the zone’s first spot to the B.C.s, came despite a strong effort, the coach noted.

“(Windsor) had three shots on net and luckily
scored on all three. We pressed the whole game (and) hit the crossbar in the first 10 minutes. I would say we were probably the better team and had more chances, but just couldn’t score,” said Dal Sasso.

The loss of Nicolas Santarelli, to a broken hand suffered in a league playoff match two weeks earlier, complicated matters. But the core of the Aztecs, with five coming from the premier league’s Mountain United program and most others from local metro teams, are well-versed in the skill and work ethic required to excel under pressure.

“We thought we would be able to compete at a very high level as we have some of the top players from Mountain FC in their respective age groups playing at Alpha and added some very good (Burnaby District metro) players and a couple of good athletes and we have something special,” said coach Dal Sasso.

“More than half of these players have come from the (Alpha) junior team that won the Burnaby-North Vancouver banner two years ago against AAA teams. We should be one of the favorites in my opinion heading into the AA tournament.”

Alpha opens the tourney Monday at 9 a.m. against Thomas Haney, then faces Sa-Hali at 12:45 p.m. On Tuesday, they wrap up pool play against Hazelton at 11 a.m., with playoffs beginning later in the day. The AA final is slated for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, at Burnaby Lake West.

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