Written by: Cleeve Dheensaw, Times Colonist
Newcomer Westcastle FC has won three consecutive games, and is unbeaten in four, in a breathless recent move up the tables.
That has moved the Westcastle upstarts (5-3-2) into a fifth-place tie with Nanaimo United on 17 points with a game in hand on fourth-place Lakehill, which has 18 points.
The annual powerhouse Cowichan FC leads with 25 points after 11 games, followed by Gorge FC with 22 and Vic West on 21. The Vancouver Island Wave and Bays United have 11 points each, Comox Valley United nine and Vantreights three.
“Our goal is to finish in the top four, which would qualify us for the Province Cup,” said Westcastle assistant coach Scott Strickland.
“The Jackson Cup [VISL knockout title] is a goal, too.”
That would be a first for the start-up club from six years ago, which worked its way up from Division 4, with Strickland a part of the journey from the very beginning.
Scoring goals certainly hasn’t been an issue of late. Westcastle has 16 of them in the last four games, which have included a 4-4 tie in Comox, 5-1 victory over the Wave, 2-1 upset of Cowichan and a 5-1 win last weekend over Vantreights.
It all changed for Westcastle when club president Steve Hodges joined up with Thomas Niendorf and his Pacific Elite Soccer Institute, an academy program for aspiring young players 16-18, which two years ago relocated to Victoria from Calgary.
“Thomas [Niendorf] has trained a lot of pros,” added Strickland, the former head coach, before Niendorf took over as bench boss this season, with 17 kids from his PESI group joining up with nine returning Westcastle veterans.
“[Niendorf] has taken young players to Germany for [pro] trials,” said Hodges.
“They have quickness, which is a big advantage.”
A concern, however, was how such a young group would hold up physically playing against men in the VISL.
“The kids have proven to be tough and have held their own,” said Strickland.
And their resilient legs are starting to take a toll on older opponents.
“My goal has always been to win the Jackson Cup . . . it may take a couple of seasons more to do it,” said Hodges.
But now, he may have hit upon the right formula to eventually achieve that ambition.
The VISL Division 1 season continues Friday with Westcastle looking to extend its winning streak at 8 p.m. at the Oak Bay High School turf field against host Bays United.
Saturday night action features Gorge and Vic West playing at UVic at 7 p.m., while Cowichan is at Comox Valley at 6 p.m. and the Vantreights visit Nanaimo United at 7 p.m. on the Merle Logan turf field.