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Overcoming soccer challenges in Alberta
Fort Liard and Fort Simpson teams compete at Polar Cup in Edmonton

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 10, 2013

Soccer players from two Deh Cho communities got a taste of competitive soccer outside of the NWT over the holidays.

NNSL photo/graphic

Members of the Velocity U16 Fort Simpson soccer team that competed at Polar Cup in Edmonton include back row, from left, Reannda Cli, Winona Cli-Letcher, Karissa Balsillie, Sherissa Grossetete, Janelle Bruneau and coach Shane Thompson, middle row, from left, Desiree Mandeville, Hannah Paulson, Nikita Larter and Cydney Nahanni-Kwasney, front row, from left, Sara Amundsen and Dominique Tremblay. - photo courtesy of Colinda Blondin

Four teams from Fort Liard and three teams from Fort Simpson competed in the Polar Cup in Edmonton from Dec. 28 to 30. Transitioning from playing in a small community to competing in a major tournament came with a unique set of challenges for the athletes.

In order to have enough athletes to field teams, 25 players from Fort Liard combined with 22 players from Behchoko. Their first game of the tournament was the first time the athletes on the four teams had played together, said Roslyn Gardner Firth, the teams' manager.

Full-sized indoor pitch

For at least three-quarters of the Fort Liard athletes it was their first time at the Polar Cup and their first time on a full-sized indoor soccer pitch, a space at least twice as large as the gym they practise in.

"It meant they had to work three times as hard as they'd ever had to work before to play the game," Gardner Firth said.

"This tournament was a huge challenge and a real learning experience for our players," stated Ollie Williams, one of the coaches, in an e-mail.

"We're proud of all of them for the way they dealt with their new surroundings and the pressure."

Despite giving it their all, none of the teams, including U14 and U12 girls, U16 and U18 boys, managed to win a game. The U14 girls came closest with a 4-4 tie against the Evansdale Snipers.

The U18 team also had some close scores going from a 6-1 loss to Sturgeon AC Milan to a closer game of 4-1 against LePerle before ending with 6-4 defeat against the Burnewood Warriors.

"They played their hearts out," said Gardner Firth. "The U18 boys had a really top notch team."

Despite the lack of wins, Gardner Firth said all the athletes remained upbeat and excited throughout the tournament. Although they were far from home, the teams also had some hometown support. School principal William Gowans and staff member Collin Woehl, who were in Edmonton on vacation at the time, came out to cheer on the teams.

Gardner Firth said the tournament was a way to prepare the athletes for competing in Grande Prairie in May and to give them a sense of playing on regulation-sized pitaches.

Polar Cup also had its challenges for the teams from Fort Simpson. Twenty players from the village competed in the event along with three athletes from Fort Resolution and two from Hay River.

The T-Birds, playing in the U14 girls division, only had seven players, giving them one substitute, and were up against teams that had at least 11 players, said Jodie Isaiah, who coached the team.

The T-Birds lost their first game 5-0 against the Hardisty Young Guns and then tied 2-2 against Blue Lightening before losing 7-2 against Fort Saskatchewan. All their competitors complimented the T-Birds for being really strong for a small team, Isaiah said.

Fort Simpson's U16 girls team Velocity had a similar record losing two games and tying the third.

The U18 boys team, which played as the Pink Ladies, lost all of its games. The athletes weren't able to combine their skills to their advantage, said Isaiah.

Overall the athletes did well and learned a lot from the tournament, she said.

"They are all really good athletes. A little more practice and we'll get there," said Isaiah.

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