Vernon products with the Thompson Okanagan F.C. Under 15  team

Vernon products with the Thompson Okanagan F.C. Under 15 team

Soccer girls jet set to Tampa Bay

Vernon foursome headed to Super Y League North American Championships in Tampa Bay.

Just for kicks, Cassy Lukey spends hours booting soccer balls deep into her Coldstream family acreage. She retrieves the balls and repeats the process.

All part of intricate goalkeeping drills she will put to use at the 2011 Super Y League North American Soccer Championships in Tampa Bay. The Thompson Okanagan F.C. Under 15 girls team opens the tournament today against the MPS Knights of Massachussets.

“When I tried out for Y League in U14, I wasn’t the designated goalie,” laughed Lukey, a Grade 10 Kalamalka Secondary student. “I played midfielder and goal, but they didn’t have a goalie.

“I’ve got a really good drop-kick which I can probably get 50 yards. I’ve worked on it in our open field. I made it to top-four with the provincial U15 team so the hard work is paying off. I actually feel like I know something about playing goal now.”

The 5-foot-7 Lukey, who used to dive and jump for points in club volleyball, likes the Thompson Okanagan’s chances in Florida. They face the Mequon United of Wisconsin on Saturday and finish round-robin play Sunday versus the Rage S.C. of Hershey, Penn.

“We really have no weak points and we are fast up front. Nobody gets down on anybody. Making a mistake is hard enough so it’s important not to get on a teammate when they do,” she said.

Lukey has taken a “slide tackle to my neck” and a few shots to the head, but considers the dangers all fun and part of the job.

She is joined on Thompson Okanagan by locals Kira Lee, Emma Byskov and Paige Ralston.

Lee, whose sister, Lindsay, played for the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers on a scholarship, will help control the back four.

“I think my role on the back line is part vocal and part attitude,” said Lee. “I can be vocal but I also work really hard and I think when the team sees someone running their butt of for one ball, it’s gets them pumped and wanting to do the same.”

Lee began her career in Li’l Kickers and is currently on a school exchange in Mexico.

“Mexico has been an amazing experience. I didn’t know much Spanish when I came here so my Spanish has improved significantly. I have had so many fun memories here; I’m definitely going to miss it when I go home. Not only am I going to school here but I’m also playing on the school soccer team here. It’s not as high quality as Y League but it’s definitely some good fun and a great work out. I also went to a Chivas (Club Deportivo Guadalajara) game which was really cool to see.”

Lee hopes to land a U.S. soccer scholarship down the road, but for now is focussed on upping her play in Florida.

“I believe our Y League team is a hard working team and that’s what made us so successful throughout the year. We all wanted to win and go to Florida so badly; every single player would put it all on the field and we would work out butts off for every ball.”

Byskov, who patrols outside midfield, also played Li’l Kickers, but was a ball hawker at an even younger age.

“I loved soccer right away because I have an older brother (Mik) who’s five years older than me so I was on the sidelines kicking the ball at his games.”

Byskov, who has an Aug. 30 birth date, is aggressive on the ball and has happy feet.

“I’m fast. I like making lots of runs down the wing and crossing the ball in the middle. I get lots of assists, but I don’t score very often. We’re a very good team. I’m really excited about going. We stand a very good chance.”

Byskov, who plays “everything but middle” for the Seaton volleyball Sonics, said the Thompson Okanagan team has enjoyed coaching kids at a Kelowna elementary school. They train following the sessions and also practise at indoor facilities in Kelowna and Vernon.

Ralston, also a Grade 10 Kal student, guides central midfield for Thompson Okanagan. At 5-foot-7, she wins most air balls.

“They (centre midfielders) tell everyone where to be and what to do so we can switch the ball and direct traffic out there,” said Ralston, who got a rather late start in the game.

“I started six years ago. I was playing fastball (first base or outfield) and I wanted more of a challenge. We have good communication. Nobody backtalks anybody. It’s a good group; we’re really good together.”

Ralston, who turns 16 in February, says head coach John Hemmerling trusts his team will play the system he teaches.

“We work pretty hard, but when we need it, we’ll hear from him.”

The Thompson Okanagan F.C. clinched the Northwest Division of the North American-wide Super Y League last summer in Burnaby, splitting a series with the Mountain F.C. of Vancouver, losing 3-2 before winning 2-1.

Lee had a goal and anchored a strong defence from her centre back spot in the opener, while Ralston was a physical presence in the midfield all weekend and was particularly strong with her head balls preventing Mountain from advancing out of their own end.

In the victory, Lee rang a long, hard ball off the cross bar as the team pushed for the go-ahead goal in the second half. Shortly after, the Mountain keeper robbed Byskov on a low, hard blast that appeared destined for the goal.

Lukey starred in goal in the win, especially late in the game when Mountain was pressing hard. She controlled the net and was forced to make a number of saves in heavy traffic.

Under Hemmerling’s leadership, the team has come close to advancing to Florida a couple of times, but this is the first trip to the Y league finals.

The girls (all but Ralston attend the academy) credit Hemmerling and Whitecaps Academy coaches David Broadhurst and Claire Paterson for making them solid impact players.

The team raised close to $50,000 in fundraising and awarded Vernon chiropractor Michael Salmon with two tickets from Westjet as the big winner in a raffle.