Dugan McInnes clearly puts his effort in for the junior team.

‘I feel like a Cougar’ at soccer tournament

The final of the Nakusp Invitational Soccer Tournament was underway and The Similkameen Sparks were battling the Nakusp Cougars.

These were the words that this chaperone was privy to hear during the awkward inaugural hour of the Nakusp Invitational Soccer Tournament sponsored dance that took place Friday night. However on this occasion the reference was not a show of support for the Nakusp Secondary School sports teams, but rather the young lady’s observation that she was one of the few seniors among the other dance attendees who had arrived at the recreation center with punctual excitement. The ballooning crowds of youths were forced to patiently wait to mingle with the senior tournament participants who straggled in, fashionably late, when the sun was sufficiently down.

Arriving late, it seems, is not just for those too school for cool, as this writer stumbled onto the Nakusp pitch for Saturday’s final game between the pool A and pool B champions. The final of the Nakusp Invitational Soccer Tournament was already underway and The Similkameen Sparks were battling hard to maintain a 2-1 lead over the Nakusp Cougars when a frenzied flurry of activity in front of the Sparks keeper almost materialized into the equalizer that the Cougars needed before heading into the half time break.

The crowd of locals who had created a wall of support along the western touchline collectively drew in a gasp as the ball rebounded erratically among the tangle of blue and grey jerseys only to be let out in an anticlimactic sigh after the ball was drop-kicked by the Sparks keeper out of his zone. The back and forth action continued through the final few minutes punctuated by the appearance of a yellow card awarded to a member of the Sparks squad for some unfair handling of our midfield players. The warning drew a line in the sand, but worked only to define the expectations of referee Iain Harvey rather than abate the intensity of the battle on the field. At the shrill sound of the whistle the game was clearly in reach of either team as the two squads jogged into their technical areas for a half time breather with the score still locked in at 2-1 for the Sparks.

The second half quickly revealed a weak spot in the Cougars defense as a daring rush through the penalty area allowed a Sparks forward to unload a bomb at our keeper that bounced through an unavoidable gap in the near post. The new mark on the scorecard threw the once chatty Cougars into quiet resolve as they silently dug into their gravel for a bit of magic on the pitch. The grey determination slowly escalated, as did the players communication, until it built to a climatic explosion as Nathan Hawe fought for space along the outside touchline and was rewarded with the rousing sound of ball slamming untouched into the back of the Spark’s net. “Let’s go boys!” was called as the Cougars lined up for kickoff, but unfortunately the rally cry was met by the conviction of the Sparks, and the remains of regulation time was spent in mutual attrition.

The final 3-2 loss could be read on the pitch in the language of deeply gouged divots left after thunderous kicks and streaks of flattened grass from desperate tackles. The footnotes of the Nakusp Invitational final were on the faces of the Cougars as they exited the field into the understanding arms of their local fan base. In that moment, in the fading haze of a Saturday evening in Nakusp we were all feeling like Cougars as the loss was shared, and the stellar performance was celebrated.