The Gateway U18 women’s indoor soccer team knew it had something special going on this season.
The older core players sought to go out on top with their first Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association championship, but a lack of numbers kept them from fielding a full team of 17- and 18-year-olds. However, the club called upon some younger players — and the youthful exuberance proved helpful.
Gateway took the league title on March 17 with a nail-biting 1-0 victory over Park City West for the U18 girls’ recreation division championship.
Head coach Brent Leeson explained the team focused on bonding early in the season, practising outside before weather forced them indoors, and taking the time to have social events to get players familiar with one another.
"The U18 girls wanted to have one more year together, so we needed to fill the team in," Leeson said. "We had seven girls who came up from the 16-year-old team.
"This was a one-year opportunity for them to play together, so I think that made it more special all around."
His daughter Jenna, who at 19 was the oldest player on the team, said the title was special for her age group.
"A lot of us 18-year-olds, we had never won anything," she said. "(In the past), we made it to the playoffs, but didn’t win any games. So to finish first in the regular season, first in the playoffs, and win the final, it was amazing.
"It will be a season we’ll all never forget."
Leeson, a Transcona resident, claimed he never once spoke about winning with the group during the regular season, only encouraging them to have fun and work on their skills, and that success would follow.
"I keep an eye on the standings, but I always said to them ‘Work together, have fun, learn, grow and the success will come,’" Leeson said. "I want them to be coaches. I want them to be leaders in our society. That’s why I coach."
A late-season upset loss at the hands of the North Kildonan side steeled Gateway’s resolve, as players and coaches realized they’d have to take it up another notch in order to take the title in the playoff round.
Jenna said every player was committed to defence, especially in the championship game, and the offence flowed from there.
"Each line was pretty strong. Each line you knew could score a goal," she said.
Monessa Polet, who was 15 when the season started but has since turned 16, said she noticed the age groups coming together as the year went on.
"At the beginning, when we had the outdoor practices, when we did the drills, we did one where we had to go in two separate lines. At the beginning, it was all the 18- and 17-year-olds (in one line) and all the 16s and 15s in one line," she said. "Now, that didn’t matter. We all mixed."
Though registration has officially passed, there are still spaces on some Gateway outdoor soccer teams for the summer season. Contact the club at 204-982-1234 for more information.