Valley weathers the storm at U16 Westerns

The Fraser Valley U16 girls team is heading to nationals with the best record in the country.

After a historically dominant season, in which the girls never lost a single game in regular season play, Valley was heading into the Western championship weekend with a single thought – qualify for nationals, and defend the title.

The girls took care of the first task early in the weekend, as they played off against number two ranked Pacific Storm in their opening match of the tournament. The game was important, as the winning team would head straight into Sunday’s final, and automatically earn a berth into the National Championships at the end of the season.

And while the cross-town rivals threw everything they had at the talented Fraser Valley squad, Valley’s depth and veteran leadership weathered the Storm early, and turned the game around in the second half. All-star Kinga Wisniewska was especially dominant for the Valley girls, scoring five goals and making a number of high-pressure plays on the outside. The win preserved FV’s undefeated streak, and ensured they would have a chance to defend their national championship at the end of the month.

With the day off on Saturday, the FV girls rested and watched as the rest of the teams in the west battled it out for the shot at the top-dog Valley squad. A determined Team Saskatchewan, who spent the majority of the year in third place overall, rose to the occasion against Pacific Storm in the semi-final. A strong start turned into a continued, game long effort to shut down the dangerously talented centre forwards from Pacific Storm – and when the buzzer sounded, Saskatchewan had earned the right to play the Valley girls for the Western Canadian title.

Tracing back the U16 girls to the last time they dropped a game, one would have to turn back an entire calendar year, to the 2015 Western Canadian championship game. Despite going on to win nationals that season, the FV squad actually dropped the final to the Calgary Renegades (who they subsequently played in the national final). On the line this year was a chance to right that wrong, and remain undefeated for more than a calendar year – an unprecedented feat, given that athletes move up categories after only two years.

But the upstart team from Saskatchewan played with big hearts, and a stalwart defense – keeping the game extremely close in the early going. Team Sask, buoyed by the play of Paige Donlad and Blaire McDowell, carried a one-goal lead into the second half, as Team Sask led 6-5 at the end of the second.

Valley’s island connection found the back of the net in the third, as both Tianna Smids-Dyk and Natalie Veronneau scored beauties for FV, while Kinga Wisniewska continued her strong play with two goals of her own in the quarter. Capped off with a seeing-eye shot for the ages from Abigail Carter, Valley turned the score line around on the indomitable Saskatchewan team, winning the quarter 5-1.

With nothing to lose, Team Sask charged back into the game with a three-goal effort in the fourth, but the effort wasn’t enough as Valley held on to the game, winning 11-10 and taking home the banner they missed last year.

Despite the elation at winning the championship, it was all business for the Valley team the following week, as they prepare to defend their national title in Montreal. The girls will be up against tough competition from CAMO, the powerhouse squad from Quebec who were eliminated by Valley at last year’s championship. And after the effort at Western’s from Team Saskatchewan, the most dominant team in the country will have their work cut out for them in terms of title defense.

Special congratulations to Valley’s Kinga Wisniewska, goalie Gabby Mantyka, and Tanaya Makazu who were named to the Western all-star team, and double congrats to Makazu, who also won the top scorer award for her 73 goals in 19 games this season. Valley finished with four of their athletes in the top 20 scorers in the league.

National championships are set for May 27 to 28, at the Centre Sportif du Parc Olympique in Montreal.

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