DALE CORY/Ponoka News
“The tournament was an outstanding success. We have put Ponoka on the map for soccer in Alberta.” -Shawna Pearman, tournament organizer for the Alberta Soccer Association Tier IV Rural Championships
Those may be strong words, but Pearman could certainly back up her claim with what took place on soccer pitches across Ponoka last weekend.
Just a week after residents welcomed the world’s top cowboys, cowgirls and rodeo stock to Ponoka, the town played host to many of the best young soccer players in Alberta.
With 18 teams competing in two divisions, including a pair of Ponoka teams — and plenty fans out to watch the games in somewhat less-than-ideal conditions — the benefits to the community were enormous.
“We had an unbelievable group of parents who volunteered so much of their time to make this a great event for all 18 teams participating. We had so many compliments on what a well-organized event we put on as well as what a great community Ponoka is,” continued Pearman, who had two daughters playing on the U-18 Fusion and was a coach with the U-14 Strikers.
“We had over 300 young athletes, coaches and parents come to Ponoka, staying in hotels, camping and eating in restaurants and supporting local businesses. We had over 35 sponsors for our event and we cannot say enough on how our community stepped up and helped support our first ever provincial soccer tournament.”
U-18 girls take bronze
It’s a game during which every second counts. And, it’s a game of inches.
On Saturday afternoon on the Ponoka Composite High School soccer pitch, Ponoka’s entry in the U-18 championships found out just how un-beautiful the game of soccer can be at times.
After taking a 2-1 lead midway through the first half on a controversial goal by Maddison Pearman, who bowled over the Lac La Biche keeper and tipped the ball into the open goal, Fusion played a strong control game the rest of the way with thoughts of opening the tournament with a 2-0 start.
Then, just when local fans lining the field were starting to breathe a little easier, a Lac La Biche corner resulted in a loose ball that was booted into the open side, tying the game with less than two minutes remaining on the referee’s stopwatch.
The teams eventually went to penalty kicks to decide a winner. Five players from each side took part, with one Ponoka girl ringing the ball off the crossbar.
Lac La Biche scored on its final attempt to steal a 3-2 victory over Ponoka, forcing the locals into an uphill battle the rest of the way.
In fact, Ponoka again faced Lac La Biche Sunday morning, with the team from northern Alberta scoring a 2-0 victory. That win advanced Lac La Biche to the championship game, which it lost 2-1 to Edson.
Although Ponoka was relegated to the third/fourth place game, the girls were by no means dejected to the point of not performing.
Facing arch-rival Lacombe, Fusion tallied early, and held on to beat the Cougars 1-0 to claim bronze medals.
“This was a great weekend for girls’ soccer in Ponoka. The loss to Lac La Biche was tough because they tied the game up in the last two minutes and then we lost by one goal in a shootout,” said coach Pearman after the tournament. “The U-18 girls displayed an incredible amount of desire and resilience to win the bronze medal despite a shortened roster the entire weekend. In the bronze medal match against Lacombe we scored in the first five minutes and held onto the lead for 85 minutes.”
“The coaching staff is very proud of these young ladies because of their desire to play and their willingness to be coached. For six of these young girls, it is their last season and it was a fitting end to their soccer career in Ponoka.”
The final nine … The final rankings for the U-18 tournament were Edson (gold), Lac La Biche (silver), Ponoka (bronze), Lacombe, Rocky Knights, Beaumont, Fort Saskatchewan, SP McDonalds and St. Albert. Lacombe won the Fair Play award.
Heartbreaking defeats for U-14 Ponoka team
Ponoka’s other entry in the Alberta Soccer Association Tier IV Rural Championships was the U-14 team, which also qualified to play for a medal.
After opening the tournament with a 2-0 loss to St. Albert in the rain Friday evening, the Strikers got hot on Saturday and blanked Cold Lake 2-0 in its second game.
That pitted the girls again Thorsby with a shot at the gold medal on the line.
After battling through regulation time scoreless, the teams went to penalty kicks, and thrilled fans by going back and forth. Finally, Thorsby scored on its eighth shot to take the win 1-0.
In the bronze medal match, Ponoka was again in tight, and suffered a 3-2 loss to Sherwood Park, settling for fourth place.
“We battled hard and played with a lot of heart. We lost two heartbreakers, 1-0 to Thorsby in a shoot out that went to eight shooters in the bronze medal game,” said U-14 head coach Lonnie Behm. “To place fourth in provincials is a big accomplishment for the girls. It was instilled in our team at the beginning of the season that everyone plays a big part in our success, and all the girls used their strengths to help the team be successful.”
The final nine … In the U-14 championship game, St. Albert beat Thorsby 1-3 to take the gold, relegating Thorsby to silver. The rest of the final standings had Sherwood Park (bronze), Ponoka in fourth, Carstairs, Edson, Stettler, Cold Lake and Fort Saskatchewan. Sherwood Park won the Fair Play Award.