An intense two days at the provincial Coastal Region AA boys soccer championships last week, including semifinal and final matches that went to penalty kicks, ended with Brentwood College School taking home the championship.
Not quite a provincial championship, the Coastal tournament in Burnaby featured the teams from Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley who qualified for provincials. When it became apparent early in the week that Interior and Northern teams wouldn’t be able to attend because of extensive flood damage throughout B.C., the field was reduced from 16 to 12, and from five games in three days to four in two days.
Brentwood had never won a provincial title in soccer, and while this win won’t count as one in the eyes of B.C. School Sports, it’s a remarkable achievement for the team.
“It was pretty cool for the kids and pretty cool for the school,” said Wes Barrett, who has coached Brentwood for six years. “The soccer program has become quite a tight-knit group over the years I’ve been here, and it’s done better and better.”
Brentwood’s best previous finish was fourth at the last provincial tournament in 2019, so after pool play, they knew the worst they could do was match that mark. This year’s group included a handful of players who were on the team two years ago: Yuki Imai, an underage starter on the 2019 team, as well as Harrison Brands, Jacob Hart, Avik Bakshi and goalkeeper Dylan Gage, who were called up from the junior team that year.
“When we won our group, we knew we would either tie our best result or create history,” Barrett said.
Brentwood won their first group game 3-0 over Sands Secondary, then edged Mulgrave School 1-0 in their second game when Yuto Imai, called up from the junior team like his older brother was two years ago, scored in a half-volley with just seconds to go. With wins in their first two matches, Brentwood knew they were going straight into the semifinals regardless of the result of the next game between Sands and Mulgrave.
The semifinal against Notre Dame on Tuesday was even closer. Tied 1-1 after regulation and 15 minutes of extra time, the game went deep into penalty kicks before it could be decided. Notre Dame went ahead about 10 minutes into the game, but with about 15 minutes left to play, Brentwood centre midfielder Thomas MacDonald stole the ball and beat a defender to score.
When it got down to penalties, neither team was eager to concede. After five attempts, both teams had scored four and missed one. Both teams’ sixth shooters scored, with Yuto Imai connecting for Brentwood. Finally, Brentwood’s seventh shooter, Joffre Decore, found the net, and Gage stopped Notre Dame’s shooter.
“The further you go into your 11 players, the more nervy people get,” Barrett commented. “So it was pretty to cool to see our sixth and seventh shooters score.
After the semi, the players had time for a quick cooldown, a banana and a granola bar, and another warmup before the final against Carihi. Brentwood had met the Campbell River school once previously this season, in the North Island final, which Carihi won.
“They knew us and we knew them, and we both knew it was going to be a tight game,” Barrett recalled.
Bakshi opened the scoring with a header about 15 minutes in, and Brentwood held tight to that lead, hoping they could weather the storm with defence. Carihi tied the score with about two minutes left to play, which could have been fatal for Brentwood.
“In sport, that can be super deflating because you’ve been holding on so long and then the other team can get momentum,” Barrett said. “It was a hard one for the kids to deal with.”
Again the teams played 15 minutes of extra time, which proved fruitless. When it went to penalties, Brentwood scored on their first two shots, while Carihi missed twice. Both teams scored on their third shots, but Bakshi put it away on Brentwood’s fourth attempt, and Carihi didn’t even have to go to the line.
“Kudos to the guys for keeping their nerves,” Barrett said. “That’s not easy as a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old, but they did it. That’s great for them.”
Grade 12 player Fabian Himmelstein was one of the great stories of the tournament. He had been quite ill, and missed the first day of the tournament, but travelled over for the second day, more to support his teammates than anything else. Knowing Himmelstein excelled at penalty shots, Barrett subbed him into both playoff games, and he scored in both, showing how every player can contribute to a championship victory.
“It takes a whole 20-man roster to pull off a win like that,” Barrett said. “Everyone felt part of it.”