Provincials present perfect challenge for upstart Panthers

Just as the weather begins to chill out, the Moscrop Panthers are at their hottest.

The senior boys soccer team has achieved more things in one season than the program has seen in 20 years as a secondary.

Two banners already to their name, the squad is now targeting one last series as they prepare for the B.C. AAA senior boys soccer championships, hosted at Burnaby Lake West complex, starting on Thursday.

How they got to this place – a team that doesn’t hold practices and didn’t have a team all last year – is part of an incredible journey.

“We just have a special bond together. When we all play together it feels like I’m playing with family,” remarked co-captain Zachariah Thomas. “It took maybe one or two games to get to know each other better. It was the first time playing with (some) new players, but after a few games we really gelled together. Our team has been really successful ever since then.”

True, but the team that began the season unranked -- and now sit fourth in the last B.C. poll -- had a few tough tests along the way.

During the two-month regular season, where Moscrop rolled with a 6-0-1 record, the club gave up just four goals prior to the playoffs. Their lone tie came in the regular season-ending match against Burnaby Mountain, and it proved prolific, as in the playoffs the same Mountain Lions gave them another serious test.

The Panthers emerged with a dramatic 5-4 overtime win, then went on to beat Burnaby Central 2-1 in the final. That secured the first banner for boys soccer in school history.

“It was one of the best feelings ever. Every single player on the team knew we had made history, we had won it as a family and it was very special for everyone on the team,” said Thomas.

Against Riverside and then No. 2-ranked Dr. Charles Best in the Fraser North zone championships, Moscrop surged to the front of the class, thanks to a well-rounded team effort. Netminder Aqeel Allidina made the saves, while striker Pouria Maghali delivered a handful of goals. Make it two banners.

Brothers Pouria and Parsa Maghali and Francesco Sparagna were among the handful of new players to the team that made a smooth adjustment. The team has gotten a big boost from its depth, with absences of Thomas (at club nationals in October) and injuries (to Parsa and Nour Masoud) giving opportunities to others.

“Once we won our first three or four games – Zach was away for nationals, he had to take that time off,” recalled co-captain Jack Yaremko. “There have been some injuries. When we kept winning, I think everyone was like, ‘We’ve got something here.’ That really brought us together.”

Everyone has pulled their weight, notes Thomas, and feeds off that support.

“I’m not really surprised either, at how well we’ve done because I feel our team brings a lot to the table. We have a lot to offer, every single player on our team. We have two amazing coaches and one excellent manager, and even the support we have from the fans at our school is amazing,” he said.

It all came down to getting enough players for coaches Colleen Gaskell and Nikesh Mehta to start an improbable year-turn-around from no team to one almost all-star like.

For the seniors, making sure there was a season was the biggest hurdle when the school doors opened in September.

“I think everyone was looking forward to and expecting there to be a team last year, and when it didn’t happen it was like, ‘Well, we better make this year count then,’ “ remarked Yaremko, a Wesburn product. “There’s been a lot of build up for this year, especially with all the Grade 11s coming, everyone was excited for this year and I think we’re making the most of it.”

For certain, they’ll soak up this chance at another school first – first senior boys team to win a game at the provincial soccer championship. They’ve set their sights high for when action begins Thursday, 11 a.m. when they face North Peace. One win isn’t their goal, however.

“Our goal is to win. … We just need to bring the same amount of confidence, but be humble at the same time,” said Thomas. “We have to keep our heads level, stay grounded and we need to keep playing our game. Play to our strengths and as long as we keep doing that I think we can succeed.”

The team’s schedule for the pool play continues Thursday afternoon, when the meet Surrey’s L.A. Matheson (2:30 p.m.), and Friday, 9 a.m., against Oak Bay. First place in pool play will put them into the Final Four, which goes 12:45 p.m. The championship game goes Saturday at 11:15 a.m. at Burnaby Lake West complex.

© Burnaby Now

Popular Burnaby Now