After four days, eleven games, countless blocks, steals and goals, the men’s and women’s teams representing the Fraser Valley Water Polo Club emerged from the National Championship League (NCL) cross-over weekend with a combined 6-5 record.
The U19 tournament brought together over 250 athletes from across Canada at the brand new Guilford Recreation Centre in Surrey, British Columbia. It was the largest single event in NCL history, with 12 men’s teams and nine women’s teams in attendance, and more than 50 total games played over the four days. Because of how the NCL is structured, this event is the only one throughout the season which affords every team the opportunity to play against teams from the opposite conference.
Fraser Valley’s men’s team kicked things off on Thursday afternoon against the Toronto Golden Jets, who were sitting second in the eastern conference standings prior to the start of the cross-overs. The Jets jumped out to an early lead, which they built on throughout the first quarter. Faced with a 7-2 deficit after the opening frame, Valley charged back thanks to goals from Mate Rebelis and Eric Martel.
Although Rebelis and Martel continued to produce throughout the game (scoring eight goals between them), Fraser Valley was unable to close the gap on the Jets, and dropped the game by a final score of 18-15.
The FV women followed up the men’s loss with a strong performance against Dollard-des-Ormeaux (DDO). Though the first quarter featured plenty of back and forth action, strong play in nets from Gabby Mantyka (and later, Alex Rosec) helped the Fraser Valley women escape the quarter with a 3-2 lead. They would build on that lead with consecutive four goal quarters in the second and third, carrying an 11-5 lead into the last quarter. As the game inched its way towards a finish, Fraser Valley’s power play took advantage of a number of opportunities, scoring three more for a final of 14-7.
Friday featured four games, two for the men and two for the women. Both teams would split their games, each posting a 1-1 record at the day’s finish.
Despite a much better start in their second game of the tournament, the men fell to DDO Black in the first game on Friday. Strong shooting from DDO’s Jeremie Cote (six goals) matched the output of Rebelis and Martel, who once again combined for a large part of Valley’s offense. Garrett Davis, Ashton Erickson and Steven Denis also chipped in with five goals between them, to add to the seven provided by Martel and Rebelis. A strong final frame from DDO lifted the Montreal team over the Valley men 14-12, who dropped to 0-2 after two games.
Meanwhile, the Fraser Valley women found themselves in tough against another Montreal-based team, CAMO. Five goals from Valley’s Paige Bennett, Devyani McLaren, Katarina Preocanin and Ava Morrant wasn’t enough against a talented squad from CAMO. The girls from Montreal left little doubt as to why they are considered the class of the eastern conference, putting away 21 goals against the Valley women.
But sunnier ways awaited both teams in the afternoon, as the men triumphed over the Ottawa Titans 16-11, and the women picked up a win against Toronto Golden Horseshoe 12-11. Richard Laurie was a standout in the men’s game, picking up seven goals in the contest. Laurie’s offense came a timely moment for Fraser Valley, as centre Eric Martel was ejected from the game partway through the second quarter. Despite the setback, the men rallied around scoring from Laurie, Rebelis, and Davis to secure the win. Kyle Bos and Sam Remfry split time in nets for FV.
The women’s win was a bounce back effort after the crushing defeat suffered earlier in the day. Valley spent the vast majority of the game chasing the lead despite tying the game multiple times, and were down by three soon after the start of the fourth. Picking the right moment to come alive, Valley’s Emily Aikema and Paige Bennett combined for five unanswered goals in the final frame, pulling ahead of Toronto and sealing the win for FV.
It was a classic case of there being no rest for the weary as four more games were scheduled for Saturday, again two for the men, and two for the women.
The women went 2-0 on the day, picking up wins against Quebec’s St-Lambert and Ottawa’s Capital Wave, while the men dropped a closer-than-you-might-expect game against CAMO and a won against the Capital Wave men’s team.
Six different scorers appeared on the scoresheet for Fraser Valley against the St-Lambert women’s team. Bennett and Aikema once again had five between them, but their contributions were bolstered by a four-goal performance from Tanaya Makazu, two-goal games from Devyani McLaren and Kinga Wisniewska, and a single from Ava Morrant. All of the offense was needed for the win, as the game was tied at nine separate points throughout four quarters of play. The biggest lead Valley held in the game was three goals, and it came early in the first quarter.
The first game of the day for the Fraser Valley men was a high scoring affair against the top ranked team in the eastern conference, CAMO. Working without Mate Rebelis and his scoring touch, FV stumbled out of the gate, giving up three goals early in the first. A clutch timeout call from head coach Kevin Mitchell helped the boys refocus, and two quick goals from Martel and Davis kept Valley in the game. Grant Phillips-Hing and Laurie would add singles in the quarter, bringing Valley to within one as the frame ended. But that would be as close as Valley would come, despite a monstrous seven goal game from Martel in the centre forward position. A 6-2 fourth quarter in CAMO’s favour sealed the deal for the visitors, ending the game 23-14.
The women, with one game remaining on the schedule and a 3-1 record on the weekend, faced off against Capital Wave on Saturday afternoon. Once again, Valley’s balanced attack - featuring seven different scorers – proved to be too much for the Ottawa-based team. In particular, a trio of girls from Maple Ridge had standout games: Yuri Cowie, Katarina Preocanin, and Ava Morrant (all of whom factored into Valley’s U16 national championship winning team last year) each scored two against Capital Wave. With the win, the women finished the weekend with a 4-1 record, good for second overall in the west.
Valley went two for two against Capital Wave, picking up a victory against their men’s team later on Saturday evening. Despite a shorter roster, the boys went to work against the Wave, scoring 21 goals from seven different scorers. Three players scored two goals, while Martel and Davis combined for 13 goals, and Georgiy Belyaev - who had been playing stellar defensively throughout the tournament - added a single. Riley Bennett rounded out the scoring for the men, who controlled the game after a tight first quarter.
The last game of the tournament, slated for Sunday, featured the Fraser Valley men against an overmatched squad from DDO White. Eight players scored for Valley, while Martel once again had a staggering six goals. U16 call-up Spence Thomson caught the ire of the referees, as he fouled out late in the third quarter – but Thomson’s absence opened a hole in the lineup for goalie Kyle Bos to join the field players. Proving that his two goal outing in Calgary was no fluke, Bos once again found the back of the net during his extended shift in the fourth. At time of publishing however, it was reported that he was still swimming back to the bench.
The weekend was a significant success for the members of Fraser Valley Water Polo Club. While the results in the pool were encouraging, scores of Fraser Valley parents helped to keep the event running smoothly and on-time. With so many athletes in attendance, the event was a good dry-run for May, when B.C. will host the Western National Finals, which serve as a qualifier for National Finals.