Jr. Selects turn heads en route to second-place finish
In a multi-age soccer tournament featuring 98 teams, the Yukon Junior Selects stand out.
BURNABY, B.C. – In a multi-age soccer tournament featuring 98 teams, the Yukon Junior Selects stand out.
Their neon orange jerseys and professional mannerisms begged the question from many observers.
Just exactly who are these guys?
That question was a conversation starter for many field-side discussions at the Westburn Soccer Gobbler Fest tournament in Burnaby, B.C. this weekend, where the Jr. Selects took home a second-place finish in the Under-12 Gold Division.
The club is made up of 10- and 11-year-olds from Whitehorse and Haines Junction. The young Yukoners took on some of Vancouver’s top U-12 soccer teams, winning three of their four games in convincing fashion.
Prior to their first match against the North Van Torrent Saturday afternoon, head coach Jake Hanson gathered his troops on the sideline for a final pre-game speech.
“What are we trying to do here?” Hanson asked the group of youngsters.
His son, 10-year-old captain Joe Hanson responded quickly: “Be professional and play as a team.”
“We’re not here to win,” coach Hanson said. “We’re here to play good soccer.”
Young Joe would go on to score all three goals in a 3-1 win, outpacing his defender on all three strikes and finishing off his hat trick with an especially pretty goal he squeaked through the keeper’s legs.
Later that evening, the Jr. Selects endured their only hiccup of the tournament, dropping their second game 7-0 to a stronger, older club from Chilliwack.
Despite the lopsided scoreline, the Selects had chances, with both centre-midfielder Ben Kishchuk and striker Joe Hanson tucking shots just outside the right post in the second half.
“You’ve got to learn how to lose too,” coach Hanson said post-game, before adding: “That was the best soccer I’ve seen our team play at times. The boys don’t get this kind of competition up in the territory.”
The young soccer prodigies were able to shake off the humbling defeat, however, proving their mettle on Sunday by posting back-to-back wins to close out the tournament.
Sunday afternoon, it was Kishchuk who played the starring role, sniping a hat trick of his own to lead the Yukon over host Westburn Galaxy 4-2. Joe Hanson scored the third goal of the match, which stood up as the game winner.
Kischuk, 10, immediately called his father after the game to share the news of his first-ever hat trick in an Outside tournament game.
The game against Westburn marked the end of their official tournament, with the Selects sitting firmly in second place behind the Chilliwack Attack.
However, the budding soccer stars were able to sneak in one extra friendly against the West Van Strikers before heading off to the airport to catch their flight back to Whitehorse.
The Jr. Selects would win their final game 4-1, with goals coming from Kischuk (2), Hanson and Andrew Roberts.
Throughout the four matches, coaches Hanson and Derric Lewis stressed a possession game, a style they explained builds confidence and good technique in young players. Their focus this tournament was team play and player movement away from the ball.
“It’s important for them to become a team now that their individual talents have been developed,” Hanson explained.
The second-place finish was another solid building block for the young club, which celebrated its first anniversary over the weekend.
The Jr. Selects officially debuted at the same Burnaby tournament last year, where they were competitive, but finished winless after several close games.
Coach Hanson said the first seeds of the program were planted in the fall of 2009, when he was serving as technical director and head coach of the Yukon Soccer Association.
It was at that time that the 38-year-old started a U-8 development academy program, with many of the young boys now starring for the Jr. Selects attending.
Two years later, Hanson and other organizers Lewis and Victor Lavanderos began to realize the potential the soccer-crazed group of youngsters possessed.
Last summer, when an opportunity for his son Joe to play as a guest in the U-10 division of the Alaska Airlines Cup went awry, the coach made a split-second decision and registered a team of his own.
The first version of the Jr. Selects was assembled three days before the tournament, and the rag-tag group went on to go unbeaten and win the category – including two games played against the Alaska state champs from Wasilla.
Then and there, the Jr. Selects program was born. The team is meant to be a younger version of the territory’s rep club – the Yukon Strikers – serving as a supplemental program with a focus on the development of solid soccer skills.
“We’ve been involved for a lot of years and this is a very special group of boys,” Hanson said Sunday. “It’s important for them to see competitive games and they have a lot of fun coming to tournaments like this. They’re very talented and we want them to believe in themselves. We want to see them able to pursue their dreams.”
Vancouver clubs are taking notice. Of the 98 teams attending the tournament, the Jr. Selects travelled the furthest, and that’s a mark of dedication not lost on organizers.
Prior to their match against host Westburn Sunday afternoon, the Yukoners lined up at centre for a surprise presentation, where Galaxy players presented T-shirts to their northern counterparts.
Westburn coach Michael Iallonardo said the Jr. Selects logged a memorable performance at the tournament last year, a surprise for most observers as B.C. clubs typically dominate their northern rivals.
The Yukon squad showed so well, the Westburn club has began to contemplate pursuing a “sister club” relationship with the Jr. Selects, which would allow players to guest on each others’ rosters. The Galaxy is even mulling over travelling North to play in a tournament in Whitehorse.
“We love having them here,” Iallonardo said. “Tournaments like these are all about building the game, and bringing us all closer together.
“There is a lot of talent up there and it’s good to see. Maybe some of these kids can be our future stars. If these coaches keep doing what they’re doing, some fantastic things are going to happen.”