The Swift Current United U-18 Boys capped their playing careers by winning a provincial champion at the Saskatchewan 2014 Sport 4 Life 11v11 Youth Provincials in Moose Jaw on June 30. Members of the winning team were: Back Row (L to R): team manager Tamara Friesen, coach Steve Kritzer, Sebastian Torres, Dominic Vallee, Jim Sadden, Austin Friesen, Cody Janzen, Kyle Chapman, Kody Resch, Lucas Jansen, Tyler Moate, coach Ivan Nickel. Front Row (L to R): Casey Powell, Dylan Griffin, Anthony Barden, Trent Meyer, Marcus Mayall, Thomas Hammerton, Zac Nickel, Cole Kritzer, Riley Wiebe, coach Robert Chapman. Missing from photo is coach Geoff Horn.
The Swift Current United U18 boys had a bittersweet championship at the Saskatchewan 2014 Sport 4 Life 11v11 Youth Provincials in Moose Jaw on June 30.
The team earned a 2-0 win over the UCT Mustangs in the gold medal game to allow the team to raise the provincial championship trophy, but the victory marks the end of an over decade long run for the core of the team. In fact, some of the players were first on the field together in the four-year-old introduction to soccer league.
With over half of the team graduating from Swift Current's minor soccer ranks, the players and coaches reflected on their successes as they matured as a team.
"We didn't make friends, we made a family here. It's been a good run," defender Tyler Moate said during the final training session for the team last week.
The players began their love for the game in the house leagues, and when they reached the United system as Under 10 players the core of the team was in place and would stay together for the next nine years. By the time they reached the Under 14 division, it was clear the team had the potential to be a top Division II contender.
"Basically the philosophy of the coaching at that time started to change a little bit where the focus was a lot more on winning. But it was still about young men growing and learning to behave themselves in the world and learn from the sport, and use the sport for the future to help make difficult decisions as they grow into early adulthood and into adults," explained coach Robert Chapman.
The team bought into their loftier goals and were rewarded with provincial medal during their final four seasons. They claimed a silver at provincials in 2011, and followed that up with a gold medal in 2012. Last year, when a number of the players were still in the U 16 age division, the under 16 team won gold at the 2013 provincials, and the u18 team were provincial silver medalists. They obviously capped their careers with a provincial gold medal as a combined team, and they added some icing to the cake with a gold medal run at the Regina Soccerfest year ending tournament this past weekend.
"At under 10 we very quickly came to the consensus that success wasn't measured in the golds, it wasn't measured in the silvers, it was measured in player retention and it was measured in the fact that were these boys willing and wanting to come to practice and play in tournaments as second year U18," Chapman explained.
For the players, the dedication to the game had many rewards.
"It's been one of the more fun parts of my especially high school experience playing High School soccer and United, and winning a couple of provincials. It's been a lot of fun," admitted Dominic Vallee.
As a program with smaller numbers of players to draw from, the players relied on each other to be on the field year after year.
"You really get to know the guys. Everybody on this team, we never have a weak player. Everybody has a different skill set they can bring," Vallee said. "We really always focus on working as a team and just lots of passing. Our coaches are always saying people come up to them and tell them how fun it is watch us pass the ball and work as a unit."
"It's been extremely rewarding. The coaching, Robert and Steven have done an excellent job, not only coaching us to be players but to be men. It's just been phenomenal," noted veteran player Austin Friesen.
While the team logged a lot of miles together over the years, the commitment of the players to be successful was a memorable aspect of the program.
"I think just our dedication. Just the fact that we show up to most practices, we practice hard, we practice like we play."
Friesen said after all their hours of practice, that it was an amazing feeling to lift the championship trophy.
"It was great. Words can't describe how good you feel when you win that."
Moate also felt it was a special ending to a long association with the players and coaches.
"It was really enjoyable but it went by quicker than expected."
Chapman said the coaching staff dating back to their early years had a different philosophy for running their program.
"It was all about the kids…and it's all about them coming out, and having success, enjoying themselves, and learning how to deal with some adversity on the sports field," Chapman said of the team.
"I've been asked by the parents did we track all the wins over the years? No. Did we track all the goals over the years? No. Because we've reached our goal, because our goal was to have a competitive team second year U18. And that was a real bottom line for all of us involved."
Chapman, Steve Kritzer and Paul Hammerton were the main coaching trio of the team over the years, but other individuals were added to the coaching staff to provide some additional assistance. This year Geoff Horn, Curtis Schwartz, Ivan Nickel, Carson Leifson were brought in to share new skills and tactics with the players.
"We're able to realize our own limitations as coaches and bring in players that have played the game and will offer these boys a little more than what we could."
Chapman saluted the players for their dedication to the team, and their desire to improve as athletes.
"Our philosophy, starting at under 10, was that the players would be rewarded for effort. They would be rewarded for how hard they worked with playing time. Not necessarily the most skillful of them receiving all the playing time. And we would rather lose a championship than have a kid sit on the bench the entire game," Chapman said.
He also reflected that their program success was not always an easy road.
"They had one season where they were essentially unbeaten. They were unbeaten for an entire year. Which almost offered some challenges for the boys because they had to learn to win all over again. So that meant they'd learned how to win, and now they had to learn how to lose, and how to come back from that. And that was a real struggle for them. But they soon caught on and they got back to their regular ways."
"The biggest adversity it faced as a group, was a small group of them indoors, not the full team, where they lost the provincials on a late call penalty, and they got silver instead of gold. The irony of it is there was more learning from the loss than there was in a win."
The make up of the team also allowed the players to push each other harder, without having the coaches to always be the motivators of the team.
"Now, if somebody's flagging a little bit, it's not just up to me, the rest of the team will get after them as well. And we'll raise them up and we'll get them back in the game again. We haven't allowed that culture to breed where there's dissent in the ranks. We haven't allowed that to breed, so it's healthy. They'll help each other. Yeah they'll give each other a rough time, they're young boys, they're going to do that. But for the most part it's in a manner that will help the other kids succeed, not fail."
At the provincial championship the boys opened with a 2-0 shutout loss to Yorkton, but their rebounded with a 1-0 shutout win over Regina's UTC Mustangs. In the provincial semi final they scored a goal in extra time to win a 1-0 game against Yorkton, and they avenged their only tournament loss with a 2-0 win over Regina in the gold medal final.
In their final tournament as a team this past weekend, they added another gold medal at the Summerfest 2014 tournament in Regina.
As the reigning provincial U18 champions, there was no shortage of motivation to wrap up their season on a winning note, but they were tested with a trio of one goal decisions.
Swift Current won gold with a 1-0 victory over Medicine Hat on Sunday afternoon, avenging their only round robin loss when Medicine Hat posted a 2-0 win on Saturday night. Swift Current had a tough three day opening day test, starting Saturday with a 4-0 win over Weyburn and a 2-1 decision over Westman FC before losing to Medicine Hat. Swift Current topped the round robin thanks to a 2-1 win over Yorkton on Sunday morning.