The fact the seventh place team has made the Jackson Cup final isn’t as shocking as it might seem.
Cinderella story Juan de Fuca face Cowichan for the supreme trophy of men’s Island soccer at 1:30 p.m. at Royal Athletic Park Sunday, April 3.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Juan de Fuca – a team which was in Division 3 three years ago and only won five of 16 regular season games this year – has a legitimate chance at defeating Cowichan on Saturday.
“Am I surprised? Yes I am,” admits JDF coach Steve Bottomley. “It’s great for the team to be here for who we are.”
At one point while chatting about the big game, Bottomley described his crew as a bunch of Div. 2 players, though no one would question the coaching abilities of the honest leader.
A long-time Juan de Fuca player himself, Bottomley has guided the core of the team through a three year stint in Div. 3, two years in Div. 2 and now their first year in the top men’s division of Island soccer.
“We have 99 per cent of the same team that won Div. 2 last year. So where we finished (in the standings) is pretty much where I hoped. We could have won a few more games this year but, the teams ahead of us in the standings are truly of a higher calibre.”
When Bottomley took over the team, it was made up of a core of 18- and 19-year-olds.
“Six years later, we’ve got a group of 24- and 25-year-olds who’ve gained man muscle and are figuring it out. We’ve made changes and progressed along the way.”
In fact, only three of the team’s players have Div. 1 experience, Tyson Morgan, who played with Vantreights and Lakehill, and the captains, Jordan French and Zak Bougraine.
Now they’re up against fourth-place Cowichan, the Jackson finalists who fell to Gorge in 2010.
Bottomley said there’s no sense of disbelief.
“Cowichan are no better nor weaker a team than Gorge. It’ll be a tough game but we’ll be up for it. We know what Cowichan can do, Tyler Hughes (Highlanders FC) on the back line will organize everything.”
Juan de Fuca’s path to the Jackson final included a major win over fellow upstarts Vic West, 2-1 in the semifinal.
But it was the quarterfinal win in penalty kicks, 2-1, over the fading Gorge dynasty that was the “shocker” of the season thus far.
“We’d like to become one of those teams that is a desired club for university players but we’ve come up the opposite route,” Bottomly said. “And mostly this year was learning how to lose.You can’t expect to win every game against teams with more calibre.”
Cup festival at RAP
The Jackson Cup match is the second of three championship games on Sunday.
At 11:30 a.m., men’s masters teams Gorge and UVic Alumni will play for the Tony Grover Cup.
Then at 4 p.m., Gorge and Gordon Head will play for the Pacific Cup champions league title. The Pac Cup bracket was contested throughout the fall between the best of the Island and Fraser Valley leagues. Gorge gained automatic entry when their semifinal opponents Poco forfeited by suspension.