Dieu-Donné Bampale picked a good time to score his first goal of the season for the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes boys’ soccer team.
The Grade 12 student from East Kildonan possessed the strongest leg on the team, and was regularly called upon to take free kicks. But a string of bad luck throughout the short spring season had the ball hitting everything but the back of the net.
"I’ve been taking free kicks all season, and I’ve been hitting crossbars and posts a bunch of times," Bampale said.
Late in the first half of the provincial final against Garden City on June 5, Bampale finally found the twine when he blasted a free kick from the right side, just outside the penalty area, into the lower part of the net.
The shot gave the Buckeyes a 1-0 lead, and was the only goal of the game as Miles Mac went on to capture the provincial banner.
"It feels really good for that to be my only goal of the season," said Bampale, who also plays for Phoenix Soccer Club’s senior men’s team.
Both teams had chances to score in the second half, with Garden City coming close several times in the closing minutes, but Miles Mac kept a clean sheet.
"I thought the one goal was going to be enough," Bampale said. "I believe we have the best defenders in the province."
The Buckeyes’ only loss came in their first game of the weather-shortened season. It was the opener of a tournament in Kenora that the team enters every spring.
Coach Noah Joseph said that trip was a key in shaping the team.
"Our team always goes to Kenora and uses it as an opportunity to get together and as a bonding experience," he said. "We always come out of the tournament stronger and more cohesive."
The Buckeyes also put together a team for the local indoor league in order to get some work in before the snow melted.
While some members of the team play soccer together regularly with Phoenix, F.C. Northwest, Portage Trail or recreational community centre teams, it usually takes a little time for the high school squad to find a comfort level.
After the Buckeyes went on to win the Kenora tournament, Joseph was a believer that league and provincial championships were achievable.
"I could tell that the commitment from the players was fantastic, and we gelled very well," he said.
For Bampale and the rest of the Grade 12 students on the Buckeyes, the win came just one week before the end of their high school careers.
"It feels great to finish school with a championship," he said.
While the Garden City boys came up one goal short, the school’s girls’ team won the provincial championship with a 2-1 overtime win over Dakota.