CORNER BROOK A summer of hard work is about to be put to the test.
Since May, Kevin Power has been guiding a group of soccer players under the age of 18, prepping them as the representatives of Western Newfoundland for a provincial showdown against five other teams this weekend in St. John’s in the U-18 A championship bracket.
The time has flown by since then, with practice upon practice and weekly games in the local senior men’s soccer league, if the boys aren’t ready now, they’ll never be.
“We’re prepared,” Power said during yet another practice Tuesday night at Wellington Street Sports Complex, their last before they hit the road on Thursday. “This is going to be an extremely tough tournament — any team going into this tournament can win it.
“If our guys go out with the attitude they want to work hard and hustle, we’ve got as good a chance as any team out there.”
Posting an 8-3-4 record in the senior league so far, the boys work against older opposition should at least ignite some hope they’ll be battle-tested when the time comes to take players their own age.
“All the games we’ve played in the senior league up to now have helped us prepare and, with some good practices, we’re ready to go,” said Power.
According to the coach, the team is solid right through the whole field. He particularly likes his back line, and is quick to praise the midfield.
There’s definitely talent up front, but Power wants to see more urgency in their attack.
“We’ve had a little bit of trouble sniping some goals in really tough games,” he said.
“I’d like to see the guys take more shots in around the top of the 18 (-yard line) and get the shots off quicker.
“We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve had three, four or five-gaol games, which tells me we’re getting there,” he added. “I just hope everything gels together and comes together this weekend.”
Of the other five teams — St. John’s, Mount Pearl, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Conception Bay South and Avalon — Power figures St. John’s and Mount Pearl will likely be the hardest to topple.
“They are going to be two really tough oppositions, they always are,” he said, noting his team played Mount Pearl in an exhibition recently and lost 4-2, although neither team had a full roster present. “Once all the teams get out there with their full lineups, the pressure and the stakes are a lot higher, so the intensity goes up.
“I hope our guys show up with full intensity,” he continued. “If they do, we’ll be in good shape.”
If practice on Tuesday night was any indication, the boys are revved up and ready to play some pressure-packed games.
“It’s a big tournament,” said player Daniel Smith, 18, of Corner Brook. “We want to go in there and give it our all.
“We just need to play our game, keep it simple and hopefully get a few bounces our way,” he added.
He acknowledged the coach’s cries for them to shoot more and believes he and his teammates are capable of executing a little more efficiently.
“We haven’t been putting the ball in the net a lot this year,” he said. “Hopefully that changes around for us and we get a few goals early.”
Western takes to the field for their tournament opener 9 a.m. today against Avalon at Feildian Grounds.
Meanwhile, the West Coast Physio Under-18 girls team will head to Mount Pearl for a best-of-three series against the host team. The winning club will travel to the national under-18 tournament in New Brunswick on Thanksgiving weekend.
The Corner Brook entry has played in the local women’s league this summer, finishing in first place, but the challenge will be tougher this weekend against the top under-18 girls team on the east coast.
“The team we are playing is basically the same team that was in Corner Brook for the Summer Games and they beat us 5-0 at that time,” said coach Terry Ann Hamlyn. “I believe our team has improved in all positions and we will give a good account of ourselves in the game in Mount Pearl.
“Whether we are good enough is why we are playing the games, but I’m confident that Mount Pearl will need to be on top of their game to beat us.”
The girls take to the field for the first game 7 p.m. tonight.