A young McMath Wildcats won’t have to look far for inspiration at this year’s provincial high school girls AAA soccer championships. They only need rally around their captain.
Georgia Booker, the team’s only Grade 12 player, has now been a part of three consecutive Vancouver and District championship teams, following McMath’s 1-0 victory over Kitsilano in the May 16 final. But her ultimate goal is to cap her high school career with a medal at the B.C. tournament, which is scheduled for May 30 to June 2 at Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex West.
Lining up as a defender, Booker is a calming presence on the back line and a true leader on and off the pitch, says coach Paul Pedersen, adding, proudly, that she even managed to score her first-ever high school goal this year.
Seven Grade 11s form the nucleus of the Wildcats, including Dakota Chan, whose ability to pass the ball and chip in with big goals has been instrumental in the team’s ongoing success. Emillie Sherritt hasn’t missed a step since returning to soccer after a long hiatus from the game, and Kristen Wilshire has consistently found a way to contribute points, while maintaining a consistently high work rate. Dynamic striker Jalen Donaldson has had to miss a few games during to her commitments to Surrey United of BC Soccer’s Premier League, but has been prolific for the Wildcats of late, while Lauren Dickson leads the team in goals and points, and scored the winning goals in both the district semifinal and final games.
In the middle of the park, Grade 9 student Maddi Elcombe, who also suits up for Coastal FC of the B.C. Premier league, plays beyond her years, says Pedersen. She tied for the team lead in points in the regular season.
“She started games last year as a Grade 8, and her soccer IQ and willingness to compete is second to none,” Pedersen notes.
Additionally, Kayla Nimchuk was arguably the team’s top rookie, while placing among the top four players in scoring during the regular season.
Despite compiling another impressive campaign en route to again qualifying for the provincials, the Wildcats, because of the number of young players on the team, aren’t being widely viewed as a championship favourite. But Pedersen hopes that will only serve to further motivate the supremely talented group and “create a bit of hunger among the team.”
To add some challenging matches to their schedule this season, the Wildcats attended the University of B.C. invitational kick-off high school tournament in March and quickly gelled there—despite facing some equally strong opponents. Ironically, however, some of their toughest matches have come against some of their most familiar foes in league play. Both the McNair Marlins and McRoberts Strikers gave them all they could handle.
“League play is always challenging for us,” Pedersen said. “McRoberts is a young team that has a bright future (in the AA league) and matches like these helped us prepare for the teams from Vancouver. Other league games gave us a chance to play our younger players (more) and get them into the mix for the future.”
McMath’s starting 11 consists of the one Grade 12 player (Booker), seven Grade 11s, a pair of Grade 10s and one Grade 9, suggesting the Wildcats will continue to be a strong contender for many more years to come.
“The thing I appreciate the most about this group is their willingness to attack and get to goal,” Pedersen says. “We see it at all levels that teams struggle to score goals. This group loves to attack and take chances in the final third (of the field).”
Being the goalkeeper coach at the University of B.C., Pedersen laughs: “You would think we have that spot locked down. Over the past three years we have been lucky to have two great keepers, but lost both to graduation after last season. This year we have had a few girls step up and put on the gloves, though none of them play the position in club soccer. I just give them simple advice—keep the ball out of the net. To be fair, the team defence has been amazing and really limited the opposition’s looks on goal.”
In the end, Pedersen suggests the Wildcats’ biggest obstacle may well be believing in their collective selves.
“They all have the technical and tactical tools, now we just need to believe,” he says. “I think beating very good Lord Byng and Kits sides in the Vancouver and districts really made the girls believe the are a contender. I think a lot of people felt after losing 12 Grade 12s after last year (when McMath placed sixth at the provincials) this would be a rebuilding year. But I knew the talent in the younger age groups would keep the standard high.”