Richmond Ravens have certainly saved their best for last.
Having finished at the bottom of the standings in regular season play, the U18 Division One girls soccer team was considered a longshot when the 63rd annual Coastal Cup playdowns began earlier this month. Not only did the Ravens advance out of the opening round for the very first time, they are off to the championship game thanks to three straight wins on home field.
The girls needed penalty kicks Sunday to surprise Surrey F.C. 1-0 to move on to the Coastal “B” Cup final in two weeks in Aldergrove against the defending champion Tsawwassen Blues. The result also sends Richmond to the Provincial “B” Cup Championships in Penticton this July.
Those accomplishments seemed like nothing more than a distant dream back in December when the Ravens were last in the top flight of the B.C. Coastal Girls Soccer League with just one win in 11 games. They were relegated to the “B” Group for the League Cup playdowns in January.
Richmond hasn’t lost since, winning six games to take the League Cup honours, then three more victories in Coastal Cup playdowns.
Sandwiched between the success was a trip to Hawaii at spring break, that certainly seemed like would be the final chapter in youth soccer for many of the players.
“I’ve been around a lot of teams over the years and, honestly, these girls just love each other,” said Ravens co-coach Stephen Burns. “They have really bought into everything and they do try to play soccer.
“The Hawaii trip brought them closer and it was so nice (from that standpoint). We thought it might be bit of a struggle coming back but we beat a team in the first round that we lost to earlier this season and have just kept it going.
Surrey came to Hugh Boyd having handily beat Richmond in two previous meetings (6-1 and 4-1). This time it was a much tighter affair thanks to some exceptional work by the Ravens’ backline, led by aged up central defender Georgia Booker. Each side rattled the cross bar during regulation and overtime. The Ravens also failed to convert a second half penalty.
However, they did hit three straight attempts in the shootout, while Surrey twice missed the net entirely and goalie Ali Burns made the game-clinching save.
“The thing is we really don’t worry a lot about results in league play because we know we get into the cup and that’s part of it,” added Burns. “Once we started the second half of the year, we gelled more offensively. Our best player today was Georgia and earlier in the season she had a ton of field hockey going on. We have her back now and the whole backline has got better.”
The Ravens will be underdogs again against a Tsawwassen team that won the Coastal Cup a year ago and captured the top flight of League Cup play with an unbeaten record.
They won’t need much of a scouting a report. Burns knows a number of their players as a longtime teacher and coach at South Delta Secondary School.
Meanwhile, Richmond F.C. continued its outstanding season in in girls U15 Coastal “A” Cup playdowns with a 3-1 road win over Surrey United Guildford on Sunday.
The girls will now face Delta Coastal Selects in the final, which will take place in Aldergrove.
Richmond is also guaranteed a berth in the Provincial “A” Cup Championships which will be held in Burnaby July 7-10.
An impressive run for 1999 Richmond United boys team ended with a 3-1 loss to Coquitlam Metro Ford in the U18 playdowns. The team is well positioned for next season.