Big smiles all around after the game.

Nakusp Cougars: staying the course

There are a number of old stand-by adages that teams can recite to each other when faced with the ugliness of defea

Ryan Willman

Arrow Lakes News

There are a number of old stand-by adages that teams can recite to each other when faced with the ugliness of defeat; someone has to finish last, the only way from the bottom is up, we gave it our all and so on. But in the moment, when the shrill blow from the referee’s whistle marks the end of a season, there is no mix of words that can comfort the warrior who has left everything out on the field of battle and still couldn’t coax out the desired results from the infinite possible outcomes of a game governed by chaos. In that moment swamped in the miasma of defeat, the only solace a team can muster stems from the strength of their character and the courage of their conviction. These are the building blocks of sportsmanship and the bedrock upon which the proud and magnanimous athlete can make the courageous decision to accept responsibility and own their defeat.

The Nakusp Cougars suffered hard losses this last week, delivered by the best school soccer teams in the province, and their 16th placing is the painful reality that the 20 athletes who collectively stepped out onto the pitch for three days of mud, sweat and tears have to endure. But the story is not in their placing, it is their journey.

Nakusp Secondary School holds a long-standing tradition of almost consistent attendance on the provincial stage and has built their reputation as an underdog that is not to be underestimated. Coaches from bigger metropolitan centers, with access to all of that grass that always seems greener outside the boarders of our basin, marvel at our community’s ability to produce and field teams despite all of our perceived disadvantages.

“We never underestimate Nakusp, they always seem to find a way to play better than their seeding,” one coach commented during the Wednesday night coaches meeting.

What’s more is that this little corner of the province is the cradle of the Boys A Soccer provincial tournament, the inception of which can be partly attributed to our very own member of the Nakusp Secondary School staff, Rod Morrison. His vision contributed to the genesis of a tournament that would celebrate the achievements of the best soccer teams of B.C. schools with a Grade 11 and 12 population of under 80 registered students.

Nakusp has hosted the boys provincials only once before in 2005, when the tournament consisted of only 12 teams. Nine years later, and now accommodating 16 teams, the village of Nakusp reached capacity on November 6, 7 and 8 as over 320 athletes flooded the streets and filled every bed, prepared to hit the pitch to battle for the opportunity to hang the coveted B.C. School Sports banner in their school’s gym.

Nakusp was seeded 16th during the draw by a commissioner that lives in Nanaimo. A curious placing for the Cougars, as Mt. Sentinel was seeded higher despite their inability to defeat the Nakusp squad in a number of years. The 16th seeding placed the brave Cougars in a pool with Glenlyon, Langley Christian and Kelowna Christian. A tough pool to say the least; Glenlyon was the favored school to win the tournament, Kelowna Christian is an established powerhouse and Langley Christian was an unfamiliar dark horse.

In light of the seeding and the nature of the tournament, the Nakusp Cougars had the difficult task of facing off against the Glenlyon juggernaut for their home opener on Thursday morning.

“If you can hold them off the score board for the first 10 minutes, then you will rattle their confidence,” Morrison advised the nervous looking Cougars. “If you can do that, then you have a chance. But no matter what, keep fighting. Right to the end.”

Unfortunately it only took 2 minutes for Glenlyon to drive deep into the offensive zone and deftly head a corner kick into the twine. From that first defensive breakdown, the Glyenlyon squad had the Cougars on the ropes for the rest of the match and managed to pound nine more balls into the net.

The Cougars kept fighting, and the further back against the wall they were driven, the harder they responded until a chink in the Glenlyion armor was exposed by the dynamic combination of a free kick taken by stopper Dugan McInnes and the tenacious force of midfielder Kalen Jones. The private school monster was momentarily stunned by the cheeky hit to their stats, and the Cougars celebrated their small victory with vigor.

Langley Christian was the next contest for the Cougars, and they decided to send an early message during the first kick-off by skillfully sailing the ball right into the hands of our keeper, Broden McLean.

“That was a message and a test,” Morrison quietly observed.

What ensued was 70 minutes of missed chances by the Cougars and successful strikes through the Nakusp defensive line by Langley. Corner kicks continued to be the Achilles heel for the Cougar squad as lax marking left easy opportunities for the Langley forwards to drive ball after ball past McLean’s heroic efforts on the goal line. With the goal deficit rising, the Cougars’ slide to defeat was not the result of a lack of effort by the forward offensive unit comprising of Jade Kessler and Clinton Surina, as they courageously muscled their way into the Langley’s half of the pitch but just could not capitalize on their hard earned opportunities.

The provincial tournament allows no quarter for chances, and the Cougars swallowed their 5-0 defeat with stout optimism.

Subtle shifts in the lineup were conceived for the second day of tournament games as the Cougars charged the pitch with rested vigor to fac eoff against the Knights of Kelowna Christian. With ferocious intensity, the Cougars thrashed at the hearty defensive armor of their opponents, but continued to be dogged by an inability to capitalize on chances as critical moments of striking either sailed wide or spun limply off the attacking foot and confidently caught by the Knights’ keeper. Most of the contest was fought by the Cougars with only a single goal deficit, and at the half the game was still in the realm of possibility for the Cougars. However, the  Knight’s remained disciplined and defensively lucky and managed to edge out a 3-0 win over the Cougars in a match that can only be described as Nakusp’s finest efforts. Despite the final score, the match was truly a marvel of game play by the Cougars, and stands as the high-water mark of their tournament.

The Cougars kept fighting, right to the end, but after the Kelowna contest it was a losing battle. The next two games against Unity Christian and Mt. Sentinel continued to plague Nakusp with an inability to finish on hard won opportunities and the Cougars’ increasingly frantic efforts against teams that are trained to patiently wait for mistakes, were futile. The slippery slide towards the bottom of the standings could not be averted.

Nothing can dampen the sting of defeat, but the Cougars need not be ashamed of their performance. The magic of sport is the roller coaster ride of success and failure wrapped in the knowledge that there will always be another game to play, another trophy to fight for.

Cougars, this too shall pass; just remember where you come from.

 

Glenlyon defeated Immaculata in the finals 1-0. All game results can be viewed online at nss.sd10.bc.ca.

 

 

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