Defending soccer champs can’t make it two in a row

Any team defending the provincial championship title knows the competition is gunning for them.

Tess Pearman and Nikki Smith prepare themselves for the worst on a free kick during U16 soccer provincials in Ponoka July 5 to 7. Ponoka Storm placed fifth.

Any team defending the provincial championship title knows the competition is gunning for them.

This was the case for Ponoka Storm U16 girls. They had a bull’s-eye on their backs the moment they stepped onto the soccer fields in Ponoka. The defending champions hosted provincials July 5 to 7 with high expectations but the other teams proved a challenge for Ponoka Storm, who placed fifth.

Despite not being able to earn themselves a medal, head coach Lonny Behm was proud of their efforts. “We knew we had a target on our back.”

He has been coaching this team for the last three years and each time they play a game or practice Behm is impressed with the girls’ efforts and their attitude.

“They are so committed. They show up every day,” he stated.

Their track record for the season is one to be remembered with no losses at 12 wins and one draw. Behm has trained the tier 4 team with tier 1 drills and he feels they are eager to learn more. “They’re here an hour early getting ready.”

Co-captain Tess Pearman had several breakaways in a tie game against Carstairs but her opponent would not allow Pearman to score.

The game against Cold Lake was 3-1 loss, which also affected their standings.

“The first 15 minutes Cold Lake came with a little more intensity,” she explained.

Shaye and Daria Leidenius were the other co-captains and despite losing, Daria enjoyed the challenge they faced. “I’m proud of our team because it’s hard to win at provincials a second time in a row.”

Shaye feels the team worked well over the tournament. “This was probably the best weekend of soccer we played.”

Assistant coach Shawna Pearman thought they had a strong chance at doing well at provincials. Her focus was on pushing the players to play their top game. “We just tried to talk to the girls about doing their best.”

She feels girls soccer in Ponoka has a strong future. Two years ago Ponoka Storm had four girls teams; U12, U14, U16 and U18. The girls on this team placed fourth in U14 provincials, last year they won gold and next year approximately 10 players are moving forward into the U18 division. She sees this as a good thing since it won’t deplete the U16s but will add strength to the U18s.

“These girls are role models for our U8s and U10s,” added Pearman. “These girls are setting the standard.”

For assistant coach Deena Duke, her focus was to keep the girls focused on the games. She feels they played their hardest and wanted “to keep the family feel of this team.”

Coach Behm has not decided yet but is considering coaching the U18 girls next year.

Ponoka Storm tied with Carstairs on the first day, lost to Cold Lake 3-1 and beat Ardrossan 5-0. They beat Lacombe 2-0 for fifth place.

Thorsby won gold against Carstairs 2-1 and Cold Lake won bronze, beating Hinton 3-2 in a penalty shootout.

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