The celebration was slightly delayed, but that just made it sweeter for the Garden City Collegiate girls’ soccer team.
Kailyn Balfour scored the golden goal in the second half of extra time to give the Fighting Gophers a 2-1 win over the Dakota Lancers in the provincial championship game on June 5.
The Gophers held a 1-0 lead until late in the game thanks to a first-half goal by Brittany Dyck. But the Lancers came up with the tying goal and forced ‘golden goal’ extra time (sudden death).
Garden City co-captain Cheryl Malamion said despite her team being only minutes away from hoisting the championship banner, the Gophers never panicked and never doubted that they would find the winning goal.
"We told everyone to forget about it and keep their heads up," Malamion said. "Obviously everyone did a good job."
When Balfour’s free kick beat the Dakota goalkeeper, it was a mixture of relief and pure joy for Malamion, a Grade 10 defender who lives in Garden City.
"I was so nervous when she lined up the kick," said Malamion, who also play for Chico’s School of Soccer Excellence. "After it went in it was just excitement. We were all so happy."
Malamion said she had a good feeling about the team ever since its first game of the season, a 4-1 win over Oak Park.
"I like how we played together, and I knew we would be really good," she said.
Jozefa Azevedo, the Gophers’ other captain, wasn’t as quick to start believing that the team would be bringing a championship banner to the school.
"It took me a little longer," said the Grade 12 Garden City resident, who also plays for Chico’s. "Once we beat St. Mary’s in the semifinal I liked our chances."
Azevedo said the win was special to her because it was her last chance to win a championship before graduating.
"It’s pretty cool that when I come back to the school in five years I’ll be able to see my name signed on a banner in the gym," she said.
Margaret Stromecki, one of four 2010 graduates of Garden City who coached the team, said some indoor practices before the snow melted helped the team get off to a good start when the shortened season finally kicked off.
"We had more girls try out than ever, and we could sense we were going to have a good team," she said. "The girls like to work together and support each other, and it shows on the field."
With a diverse mix of players from Grades 9 through 12, Stromecki said she was excited about the long-term prospects of the program.
"We should be pretty good next year," she said.
Along with Belfour being named tournament MVP, Garden City’s Miranda Lamb and Sabrina Ferraz were named tournament all-stars.
The school was one goal away from a soccer sweep, but the boys’ team fell 1-0 to Miles Mac in the final.