A Winnipeg boys' soccer team are wearing gold medals for Manitoba as they return home Monday night from the 2017 Toyota National Championships in Fredericton, NB.
The premier-level Bonivital SC U17 boys' team defeated CS Mistral Sherbrooke, QC 3-1 on Monday afternoon. It was the final game in a week-long competition between top-level teams from each province.
"It brought me to tears. The result today brought me to tears. You can hear it in my voice now. They've been chasing this for a long long time," said Greg Nordman, laughing and sobbing, who is travelling with the team and has coached many of the players for years.
The players have shared a hunger for gold since a crushing 1-0 loss to Alberta—and a silver medal—in last year's finals.
"This tournament was just enormous to us," said team captain Jake Martin, 17.
"We just practiced plenty, we practiced like probably four times a week, we studied film of the other teams, and it's just a lot of hard work for each and every single one of us," he said.
Bonivital SC—which combines select players from districts in St. Boniface and St. Vital—was indomitable throughout the tournament, beating New Brunswick, PEI, Newfoundland and BC in games last week to reach the top of their pool.
That led to the final game against CS Mistral Sherbrooke, QC, which had beat out teams from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
As the game kicked off Monday afternoon, Bonivital SC striker Rinor Hoxha scored first, shortly into the first half.
"They really pressed us hard after that, but our keeper, Svyatic Artamenko, he made four or five saves in the first half that really held us in the game," said Nordman.
Then, Hoxha scored again, after an assist from fellow striker Joe Owikoti on a two-on-one breakaway.
"We have a really good chemistry, we work well off each other, and we're both big, strong and fast guys and we help each other out," said Hoxha.
CS Mistral Sherbrooke scored in the second half, but Hoxha struck again, scoring his third goal midway through the half.
The team held that lead until the referee's final whistle blew.
'A very, very good team'
The boys' coach, who's worked with the team for the past two-and-a-half years, said it was the first time they'd faced the Quebec team.
"They did have a lot of possession, a lot of the play, and they're a very, very good team, but we also have size and speed," said Tony Mazza.
He said the tactic was to catch the other team off guard, which "worked exceptional." It's the first time a boys' team in their club has brought home gold medals for Manitoba, he added.
"We're at the airport and they're wearing them around their neck, they're very proud. I've never seen a prouder group of kids. They wanted this, and they got it, and it just goes to show if you work hard enough you will be able to achieve anything you want," said Mazza.
The team is leaving Fredericton for Winnipeg Monday night, but they're not the only source of pride for the province.
Bonivital SC U17 girls scored fourth place at the 2017 Toyota National Championships and Bonivital SC U15 boys picked up a bronze medal at the championships in Calgary. The FCNW U15 girls came in fourth in Calgary.
Many of the under 17 boys will go their separate ways and on to play at the university level, and maybe even for professional teams next year, making this year's title all the more special.
"We just all knew how to zone in, we'd done it before, that experience last year helped us a lot to prepare for this year," said Martin.
"We didn't want that again."
Correction : We initially reported the Bonivital SC U15 girls came in fourth in Calgary. In fact, the FCNW U15 girls came in fourth in Calgary.(Oct 10, 2017 11:20 AM)