3 N.L. teams have eyes on the prize as national soccer championships kick off on the Avalon
Top level soccer tournament runs until Monday
Amateur soccer teams from across the country are rolling into Newfoundland to play for the Challenge and Jubilee trophies, with three N.L. teams vying for the title in front of friendly home crowds.
Newfoundland and Labrador has three teams competing in the Canada Soccer Toyota National Championships — one in the men's division and two in the women's division — kicking off Wednesday.
"Back in the day when I first started we'd come eighth or ninth [place], but now we're going to medal games. We're third, we're fourth, but now we're going for gold," Holy Cross FC striker Mallory Harris told CBC News.
Games are being held in St. John's, Mount Pearl, Conception Bay South and Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, which will feature local teams Fieldians AA, and a men's and women's Holy Cross FC.
A Newfoundland women's team has never placed won the tournament, which awards the Jubilee Trophy. The winner of the men's division receives the Challenge Trophy.
Harris said that the level of competition at this week's tournament, especially with hungry Newfoundland and Labrador teams striving to take home the top prize, gives hope to young fans who are in the early stages of learning the sport.
"We always get the young girls and young boys coming out and watching and they look up to us. We're role models for them, in a sense. So I think it's a great thing for them to be here to watch and to soak it all in," she said.
And it's not just the players who are hoping to put on a good show for the fans, trying to grow the sport while trying to compete for a championship.
Paul Mullett, assistant coach of the Holy Cross women's team, told CBC News the live experience of the sport is drastically different than what can be seen on television, regardless of the level.
He, too, hopes to draw a younger crowd to the pitch to cheer on the home teams.
"Hopefully young kids get out now for the evening games and the weekend, help them evolve in their game, see how the game is supposed to be played," he said.
"You see it on TV with pro leagues, but you don't get an appreciation for it as much as seeing it here. There are players here who have played semi-pro ball.… They are good, skilled teams."
Harris said this tournament is the highest level of competition in the country, other than playing on a national team.
Players spend years honing their skills to make it this far. For Harris, her 15 years of top-level competition has her poised to make a run at the tournament scoring title.
But those who aren't on the pitch — the parents, the brothers and sisters, and extended family — also understand that making it to the national championships requires an every-day, every-year dedication.
Denise Hanlon watched her daughter Stacey Hanlon captain the Fieldians AA during the tournament's first game on Wednesday.
"It's year-round. I mean they're training all winter, practising probably three times a week," Denise Hanlon said.
"It's great to be home. She's travelled with nationals before at the minor level. We've always went to watch her play."
The tournament runs until Monday.
A full schedule, with game results, can be found on Canada Soccer's website.
With files from Zach Goudie