The D.W. Poppy Redhawks are hoping the experience they gained last season can help them improve on last year’s fifth-place finish at the provincial championships.
The senior boys’ soccer team returns to the AA championships next week in Burnaby after placing third in the Fraser Valley tournament.
The Redhawks won last year’s Fraser Valley banner, the first time in school history they had captured the senior boys’ title.
The team cruised through the regular season, winning the East Division with a 6-0-0 mark, scoring 27 goals and only conceding three.
Seeded second at the Fraser Valleys, Poppy beat Burnsview 3-0 in the quarter-finals but were upset 2-1 in the semifinals by Archbishop Carney.
Facing elimination, they bounced back with a 3-2 win over Delview and then edged Samuel Robertson Technical 2-1 in penalty kicks to secure third spot.
The top four qualified for provincials.
“Of course you want to win (the title) but the talent in the Fraser Valley is extremely tough and to finish top four is a great accomplishment,” said Carl Hunter, who coaches the team along with Kyle Barry.
“But ultimately, the AA provincial championship is the goal,” Hunter said.
With a solid returning core from last year’s group, the coaches knew qualifying for provincials was a realistic goal.
“They have always had their eye on the prize and were committed from the start of the season to put their best game on the field,” Hunter said.
Nine members of last year’s team are back.
“To be successful at provincials, (they) need to take what they have learned from last year’s experience and the lessons they have learned this season to put it all together,” Hunter said.
“Going into provincials, you need to be relaxed but stick to your game plan and continue to do the little things that have made you successful all season.”
Hunter cited the work of captains Tyson Hunter and Dan Goodey, who lead the team by displaying a solid work ethic on the field.
The team’s strengths include depth and familiarity.
“Our bench players help support and push the starting 11 and a good portion of our starters have all played together at some point in their lives,” Hunter said.
“One thing that this group has shown me is that when they have faced adversity this year, they have always stuck together and have become a stronger team because of that,” he added.
The provincial championships run Nov. 21-23 at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.