Mid-Isle Highlanders will have home field advantage in first game of provincials

The Mid-Isle Highlanders FC U21 men's team takes on Gorge FC Sunday, April 14 in Ladysmith in the Round of 16.

The Mid-Isle Highlanders FC U21 men’s team is looking to continue its winning ways in the upcoming BC Soccer U21 Provincial Championships Tournament, and the Highlanders have home field advantage.

The Highlanders, managed by Bill Merriman and coached by Larry Stefanek, are looking to ride the wave of their recent success all the way to the Provincial Final. The team recently capped off a league extra-time victory over Westcastle United in the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s championship game March 25. The Highlanders now set their sights on provincial glory.

The Provincial Championship tournament format sees 16 teams from seven leagues across B.C. battling it out in a single-round elimination format, similar to the NCAA’s March Madness tournament.

Ranked third overall in the tournament and first in their group, the Highlanders will enjoy home field advantage in their initial “Round of 16” match on Sunday, April 14, and if they are successful against first-round opponents Gorge FC, they will continue playing at home in Ladysmith through the quarter- and semi-final rounds. The Provincial Final match will be hosted in Victoria on May 11.

The Highlanders won the regular-season series against Gorge FC, winning 2-1 in early October and then 5-1 in late November, but they’re not taking anything for granted.

“With the single-loss elimination format, anything can happen — it comes down to one game,” said Stefanek. “But the boys are training hard, and their confidence is good after the Cup win last weekend. We’ll be prepared.”

There is an outside chance that one of the semi-finals of the tournament could be an all-Highlanders affair. The Victoria Highlanders Prospects team is in a separate group than its Mid-Isle counterparts, but if both teams are successful in their first two matches, they would face each other in Ladysmith in the April 27 semi-final game.

Mid-Isle Soccer Club president Willow Hartig is excited about the opportunity for youth players in the club to witness such a high level of soccer being played in their own backyard.

“We’ve got a world-class facility here at Forrest Field, and it’ll be a great chance for our younger players to see this level of play,” she said. “We expect a big, noisy crowd, and we’re behind the Highlanders all the way.”

— Submitted