‘Cherry on top’ for Spartans
Forty-eight hours after helping lead her team to the CIS women’s soccer national championship, and MVP Jennifer Castillo was still hoarse.
“I will let you know when I feel it,” she said when asked how it felt to help the Trinity Western Spartans capture their third Gladys Bean Memorial Trophy in the past five years, and fourth overall in the program’s history.
“I do feel it a little bit more now,” she said on Tuesday afternoon. “But the day of, it just felt surreal.
“I don’t think I have soaked it in. I am just so exhausted and so sore.”
The Spartans were in the gold medal match on Sunday afternoon in Victoria, playing against the Queen’s Gaels. Together the two soccer powerhouses had combined to win the past four CIS titles, with Trinity Western winning in 2008 and 2009 while Queen’s won in 2010 and 2011.
And the teams played 120 minutes of scoreless soccer in Sunday’s final, setting up penalty kicks to determine the national champion.
Both teams made their first two kicks, with Stephanie Chin and Alessandra Oliverio making the Spartans shots, but the third Queen’s shooter drilled her shot off the crossbar. Natalie Boyd put Trinity Western ahead 3-2 and then Spartans keeper Kristen Funk dove to her left and came up with a save. With the chance to win the game, captain Colleen Webber made no mistake, burying the winner — just like she did as a freshman three years ago when Trinity Western last won the title.
“Queen’s did a really good job of defending us and taking away or chances and limiting our space,” said coach Graham Roxburgh.
“And we had tired minds and tired bodies. But all credit to my kids, they just kept battling and persevering.”
“Fight, heart, everything past physicality because our bodies were just so dead,” said Castillo. “I think it needed more of our minds and hearts to be put into it because we were so tired by that point.”
The players did not want the game decided by penalty kicks — Castillo admitted she was crying as she walked to the centre of the pitch — but the team was confident.
“We had great confidence in the girls that had been preparing and Funk is Funk and we all know what she can do in penalties,” Roxburgh said.
The fifth-year goalkeeper improved to 6-4 for her career in penalty kicks.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t have to go to that, but I was fairly confident in our team,” Funk said.
As for a secret to her success when it comes to kicks, Funk was at a loss to explain.
“I just commit …. and I just seem to be good at them,” she offered.
For Funk, she leaves on a high note in her final game in a Spartans uniform after five seasons of being the team’s starting goaltender. Four times during that span, the team advanced to nationals, winning three championships.
“Everyone is beat up, but you just have to stick together and push each other,” she said.
“That is one of the main things to win a national championship.”
In the quarter-finals, the Spartans defeated the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks 2-1 on goals from Jessica King and Jennifer Castillo. They knocked off the host Victoria Vikes 1-0 in the semifinals with Natalie Boyd scoring the only goal.
The Spartans finished sixth at last year’s nationals after a dominating regular season.
“Anytime you have a team that is capable of winning and doesn’t and falls at a hurdle … it just adds that extra focus, that extra concentration to say ‘we are not going to let this happen again,’” Roxburgh said.
The coach also added that win or lose, he wanted his team to know they were part of something special.
“It is more than just soccer,” Roxburgh said. “Winning is obviously a great joy, an accomplishment. But I reminded the girls, winning or losing in the final wasn’t going to take away from what we have created.
“Winning would just be the cherry on top.”
This season was not without its challenges as the Spartans lost a pair of key forwards at the start of the year to injuries and then had another few bodies go down near the end.
“We had to face adversity right at the beginning and right at the end,” Roxburgh said. “Credit to our players for overcoming.”
As for the MVP award, Castillo said she was overwhelmed to win the award.
“I didn’t expect it, I was shocked but obviouslyI was very honoured,” the third-year defender said. “It is amazing to get it (but) it is a team award. I know I wouldn’t have gotten it without my teammates.”
Roxburgh said Castillo has the capacity to be one of the best players in the country thanks largely to her great athleticism and confidence on the ball.
“She is so smooth in possession and yet she is such a warrior on the back,” he said.
“She wins timely tackles, she gets up headers, she has scored crucial goals on set pieces. Her contribution is invaluable.”
“She was a standout player in the tournament like she has been all year.”
The Trinity Western Spartans women’s soccer team placed all-stars at each position.
Colleen Webber (defender), Krista Gommeringer (striker) and Kristen Funk (goalkeeper) were named first-team all-Canadians while Natalie Boyd (midfielder) was a second-team selection.
On the men’s side, midfielder Brayden Gant was named a second-team all-Canadian.