BY ZACHARY CORMIER
It was the culmination of a dream season for the Central Alberta Christian High School Knights boys soccer team at the Collicutt Centre in Red Deer, last Saturday, as they laid claim to their first ever Central Alberta High School Soccer League title.
“It was really good. We really enjoyed the season. It was a lot of fun the whole way,” said CACHS Knights Head Coach Travis Eggink of the team’s dominant 2016 season, which saw them go a perfect 8-0 in the regular season and win both games in Saturday’s final tournament on the way to the championship.
“Once our season kind of got rolling and we were about halfway through and we thought, ‘Hey maybe it’s possible to go 10-0 the whole way through’ and we kind of set that goal for ourselves,” Eggink said, adding that defense has been a key factor in the team’s success throughout the year.
“As a team, we took a lot of pride in that. As much as we were able to score, I think we more so took pride in our ability to keep the other team out of our net.”
In fact, through the entire 10 game season, the CACHS defense allowed just five goals, an impressive number to say the least.
That defensive prowess proved to be extremely important for the Lacombe-based school last weekend, as they faced off against a pair of tough offensive teams, battling to a 4-0 victory in the semi-final against HJ Cody High School before grinding out a dramatic 1-0 victory over the Notre Dame Cougars in the final on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought the guys played really well. We had a couple of Grade 12 players that played in the back and they were able to keep their heads and play under a little bit of pressure,” said Eggink.
He added that having that strong back field also allows the team to quickly and efficiently set up counter attacks, which can lead to offensive chances and even goals.
“We talk in practice a fair bit about where we want to put the ball and how we want to see the other team chase our play. We want to control the middle of the field, that’s how we kind of want to be. Right up the middle from our centre backs through our central mid-fields. We like to keep speed and our best ball control.”
CACHS got off to a rolling start in the tournament.
Heading into the tourney in first place overall, the Knights drew a bye into the semis where they faced off against the fifth seed HJ Cody Lakers.
“Similar to the rest of our season, defensively we were able to limit their chances and offensively we were able to keep pushing the ball, keep pushing the pace and put the ball where we want the ball to be to give us the best chance to score,” said Eggink about what went right in the 4-0 victory.
That win set up a final showdown with the second-seed Cougars, who went 7-1 in the regular season.
“We played Notre Dame earlier in the season, we played them in our first game. And we did beat them 4-1 in that first game but we knew they would be a different team when we played them in the tournament,” said Eggink, adding that because Notre Dame is traditionally one of the stronger teams in the league, the Knights were expecting a tough battle.
They got one too, as CACHS and NDHS put on what may have been the match of the year in the CAHSSL.
The two teams sparred back and forth through the entire game but neither team could break through the other’s defense or goaltenders.
“I think there was some nerves on our part and on the other team’s part they want to maintain their program. It was a hard fought game,” Eggink noted.
It remained deadlocked at 0-0 well into the second half, but in the end CACHS would not be denied.
Trevor Laynes was the championship hero for the Knights, finishing a rebound in the 65th minute to break the tie and give the Knights the 1-0 lead with just 25 minutes remaining.
“I think for the most part we were able to control the middle of the field. So I think there was a feeling for our team coming out of halftime that ‘OK, it’s going to come. Just stick with what we’re doing’,” Eggink said, adding that when the goal finally did come, there was a sense of relief and excitement on the bench.
Despite numerous desperation attacks from the Cougars in the dying minutes of the game, the 65th minute marker stood as the game winner, as the Knights’ defense and goaltender shut down their opposition’s attack to lock down the school’s first-ever championship with veteran Shelby Goedhart receiving the game ball as Tournament MVP.
The victory was made all the sweeter by the fact that it was CACHS’ first CAHSSL title in three trips to the final.
“It was just fun to see the players buy into the team and buy into the system. The guys put in a lot of work and they earned it out there, they earned the victory.”