Sports

Barrie girls and Bradford Eagles teammates off to PEI for nationals

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Kaitie Shipley, left, and Victoria Van Es, both of Barrie, won a national championship with the Bradford Eagles under-17 soccer team on the weekend in Prince Edward Island. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER

Kaitie Shipley, left, and Victoria Van Es, both of Barrie, won a national championship with the Bradford Eagles under-17 soccer team on the weekend in Prince Edward Island. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER

In the last couple of seasons, the road to the Ontario Cup had been one of bitter disappointment and frustration for Kaitie Shipley and her Bradford Eagles under-17 girls soccer team.

Too often late-game struggles squashed any hope Shipley and her teammates had of winning a provincial soccer title and playing for a national championship.

"We'd never even make it to the semifinals," said the 17-year-old Barrie native, a Grade 12 student at Barrie Central Collegiate. "We always had troubles in the last minute of the game, not playing as well as we should and getting goals scored on us."

The experience left a bitter taste with Shipley and her teammates, so much so that they came into this year's Ontario Cup play-downs determined to not fall short again.

And there'd be no disappointment this time around, as a focused Eagles team made history when they defeated North London, 3-0, in the championship final recently in Vaughan, becoming the first Bradford team to win the Ontario Cup.

Learning from the past and making sure to play a complete game would prove to be the difference this time around, explained the Bradford midfielder.

"I think that really helped us with this season," said Shipley, who along with Victoria Van Es is one of two Barrie residents on the Bradford squad. "In the past when teams scored on us with a few minutes left, it was just so devastating and none of the girls wanted to feel that again.

"Losing so early the years before in the Ontario Cup is just so frustrating and I think all the girls we set a goal and refused to not let that goal happen."

"We work hard in practice and obviously it shows in games," said Van Es, who along with her teammates remain unbeaten (10-0-3) in Ontario Youth Soccer League play this season. "Towards the end of the game you can see other teams getting tired and we're still going strong."

While the Eagles have achieved their main goal of reaching the nationals — which kick off late next week in Prince Edward Island — that doesn't mean they're not looking to return from their trip out east without "some hardware."

"Yes, I do," the 17-year-old Van Es said without hesitation when asked if she believes they can win a national title. "The feeling we had when we won provincials is the feeling we want to have in nationals.

"I think everybody is going to go as hard as they can."

"At the moment we're ranked first in the nation, so we're going to try and finish first in the nation," said Shipley, who along with her teammates head out east on Wednesday.

Competing in these top-level games was exactly the idea Shipley had when she decided four years ago she would make the trek to Bradford to play soccer.

"They were always the top team," she said. "I decided I wanted to step up my play, so I tried out for them and I made it."

Van Es, who had moved to Barrie from Tennessee, was actually recruited to play for Bradford a couple of years ago by Shipley.

"I knew Victoria from my friends who still played with Barrie and they told me a real good girl came from Tennessee, and she was a real good player," Shipley said.

The two now carpool together to practices and games. "We are both extremely hard workers. She's a great friend of mine," Shipley said.

"We're together a lot of the time, driving back and forth and hanging out," Van Es said. "For nationals here, we've been doing bottle drives (together), going house to house, getting bottles and raising money."

Personally, it has been a somewhat frustrating past year for Van Es, who just returned to the pitch last month after spending six months on the sidelines with a concussion and is trying to make her way back into the starting lineup.

An attacking midfielder, Van Es admits she's an aggressive player on the field.

"I've kind of had back luck with injuries," she said with a chuckle. "Last season, I was on the bench more than I was playing because I was injured so often."

Having a healthy Van Es back is key, boasted Shipley.

"Victoria is an extremely aggressive player, no matter where she is on the pitch," she said.

Speed is a big part of Shipley's game. The midfielder helped the Eagles reach the provincial final when she scored in their 2-0 semifinal win over Oshawa in late August.

"Kaitie's very fast. She can move," Van Es said of her teammate and friend. "She'll check back hard. She'll be at one end and then be all the way up the other end to get the ball back and go all the way to the other end. She's very fit."

Fitness, thanks in large part to conditioning coach and former Canadian Olympian Antoine Skerritt, has been one of Bradford's strengths all year long, Shipley said.

It has helped them carry out the possession game coach Greg Beauchamp has taught in an effort to get his players to move the ball forward.

"That was something that Greg really pushed us on, was keeping possession and definitely making the other team switch plays and switch sides," Shipley explained. "We've been doing a lot of conditioning. Because we're a fit team, as soon as (our opponents) get tired, that is when we attack and push forward."

It's the same way they'll approach their opponents at the national championships.

"(Beauchamp) told us Edmonton is going to have a different style of play, New Brunswick, British Columbia, but we can't change our game based on the way they play," said Shipley, who two days after returning from nationals will hop back on a plane to visit Tennessee Tech University, which she'll be attending on a soccer scholarship next season.

"We just have to keep possession and keep doing what we've been doing all season," she added.