Winning is great, but rebuilding the overall competitive state of soccer in Red Deer and Central Alberta is more important to Humberto Aspillaga.
With his Notre Dame Cougars up 4-0 over the Lacombe Rams in the Central Alberta High School Soccer League championship final Saturday at Edgar Park, Aspillaga pulled many of his starters and went with younger players.
The Rams rallied with three unanswered goals, but the Cougars rebounded for a 7-4 victory and a second successive league title.
“One of the issues I can see is we need to build again the football, the soccer, in Red Deer,” said Aspillaga. “If I put all the time my stronger players (on the pitch) and we won, then it’s no fun, right?
“It used to be real good times when Red Deer have two clubs, there were lots of people going to the Collicutt (Centre) and we build some rivalry by being against each other, but also I think by being competitive. When someone blew away another team, it’s not fun, so we allowed our Grade 10s and Grade 11s to play today.”
Aspillaga credited the Rams for cutting the deficit to a goal and then getting the score to 5-4 before giving up a pair of late markers.
“The other team played real hard to come back. They did a great job,” said the Cougars sideline boss.
Aspillaga clearly had a dedicated group during a season in which the Cougars lost just once. In fact, the players showed their passion for the game by kick-starting their training in February.
“We started running in the morning at 7. We run for an hour, do some exercises and then go to classes,” said Aspillaga. “We have built quality soccer at Notre Dame so every year we are doing well. For the last three to four years we are doing well.”
Ben Anderson paced the Cougars with three goals, while game MVP Theoren Gill netted a pair and Jose Posada and Rayden Crawley also scored. Christu Moo had two goals for the Rams, who got singles from Eduardo Morales and David Luymes.
Notre Dame reached the final with a 5-1 win over the Hunting Hills Lightning, getting goals from Gill, Posada, Anderson, Keegan Reid and Vezo Gama. Luke Beasley scored in a losing cause.
Lacombe beat Central Alberta Christian 3-1 in the other semifinal. Luymes, Moo and Sam Haeflinger scored for the Rams, with Brendan Van Doesburg replying for CACHS.
Hunting Hills defeated CACHS 2-1 in overtime to take third-place honours. Eric Gopal and Jaeden Smith scored for the Lightning and Van Doesburg answered for the Knights.
In boys B-side play, Olds downed Sylvan Lake 3-1 in the final. Jaden Mulholland, game MVP Talon Grenier and Ty Smith were the Olds marksmen, while Aiden Smail scored for the Lakers.
In semifinal play, Olds beat Innisfail 2-1 in overtime and Sylvan Lake got by the Lindsay Thurber Raiders 2-1 on penalties.
Jaemin Kim netted both goals for Olds, with Simon Bigger replying for Innisfail. Cody Rumboldt scored in regulation time for Sylvan Lake and Eduardo Colunga Fierro answered for Thurber.
The Raiders, with Colunga Fierro netting two goals and Gustavo Portugal and Navada White also connecting, downed Innisfail 4-1 in the consolation game. Bigger scored in a losing cause.
l Earlier, the Notre Dame Cougars girls successfully defended their league championship with a 4-3 win over the Lindsay Thurber Raiders in a game that was decided by penalty kicks.
“It was really tiring. You’re almost crying, then cheering, then almost crying,” said Cougars co-coach Kelsey Paetz, whose team scored a tying goal late in regulation time, then won on penalty kicks following 10 minutes of scoreless extra time.
“It was crazy,” added Paetz, whose mother Laurna also coaches the team. “Our girls really came together as a team. We haven’t had a lot of turnout during the season, so when they actually act like best friends on the field it makes me happy.”
Renee Harder, Nicole Freidl and Kelsie Caine had regulation-time goals for the champs, who completed an undefeated season. Answering for the Raiders were Lizzy Morneault, Tanis Sudlow and Kiera Fujimoto.
Notre Dame keeper Chelsea Antonio, who prolonged the game by stopping a Raiders attempt immediately after one of her teammates fired high during the shootout, was named MVP of the contest.
“It’s going to be sad when the Grade 12 girls leave for college, but we’ll still have a good team next year and we’ll bring it back even harder,” said Paetz, looking forward to the 2015 season.
Freidl and Carley Dwyer were the Cougars’ snipers in a 2-0 semifinal win over Sylvan Lake, while the Raiders got goals from Fujimoto, Sudlow, Morneault, Rachelle Doyon and Abbey Martin in a 5-1 victory over Hunting Hills. Rowen Cheney scored for the Lightning.
Lacombe, with Bronwyn Pfeilfle finding the back of the net twice and Heidi Giles adding a goal, blanked Hunting Hills 3-0 in the third-place game.
Nikki Ubels, selected as game MVP, fired all three goals for Central Alberta Christian as the Knights defeated Sylvan Lake 3-1 in the B-side final. Aubri Webster scored for the Lakers.