January 29, 2013 by Charlie Eisenhood in Interview, News with 3 comments
Victoria, the eight seed, posted an undefeated weekend, with a gutsy universe point finals victory over 2012 College Championships qualifier Sonoma State.
Perhaps most impressive about their win this weekend was the perseverance they had to have just to make it to the tournament. They took a 28 hour bus ride each direction, making the entire tournament a five-day affair.
Their distance from important US tournaments makes it difficult for them to always field a competitive squad. Last year, after their Conference Championships were moved to a different weekend at the last minute, Victoria was only able to bring seven players.
This year, due to other commitments, they had to leave behind three of their four Canadian U23 qualifiers, nullifying any major advantage they might have had over US teams missing players for the U23 tryouts in Los Angeles.
Today, we spoke with Victoria’s second-year coach Kevin Bruleigh about the team’s performance and what it means going forward.
“I think we’re a little darkhorse in the true sense of the word,” he said. “…But this year we’re much deeper in terms of talent, also in terms of numbers and commitment…We’re looking to make a good showing.”
Bruleigh said originally their goal was just to hold seed, but the rain changed their goal and they “went for it.” They dominated in pool play — including a win against top-seeded UC Santa Barbara — and beat Stanford 11-3 in quarters in a windy game that Stanford didn’t adjust to.
They beat San Diego State in the semifinals, but it was a tougher win. “We had some great, lucky hands in the middle of the field that gave us some breaks, and them not as many,” said Bruleigh.
The finals against Sonoma State was their toughest matchup. After taking a 6-2 lead, Sonoma State rattled off four straight points to tie the game. Victoria wasn’t phased, however, and took the final point to win 7-6 on universe. “Sonoma showed a hell of a comeback in that,” said Bruleigh. “We were up 6-2 and then they [scored] four breaks…That last point, hard cap went off during it, it was a 12 minute point.”
The tournament win was a big confidence boost for the up-and-coming program that lost in the semifinals of the backdoor bracket at Northwest Regionals last year.
“We’re a team on the rise,” said Bruleigh. “We’re in the middle of that classic university cycle, four-year cycle…This group of girls hasn’t hit their peak and we’re still getting really strong players from Vancouver.”
They have to compete with the extremely deep and strong programs at Washington and Oregon, last year’s top finishers at the College Championships, which adds an additional challenge. “If we want to get better numbers and still develop our players, we can either go and play those really strong programs and not have good showings and not get good numbers, but still good numbers because of how the [ranking] algorithm works,” said Bruleigh. “Or we can go and play those tighter games, grindier, more battle experience, without the intimidation factor.”
Certainly, Victoria’s wins against top Southwest teams will help their cause for additional Northwest bids. But now they might have a target on their back. “We went in unknown, and that’s how we want to be. And now here we are getting interviewed by you guys,” said Bruleigh.
At the end of the day, they are focusing on themselves and their goals.
“We’re really happy with this result…but it’s not enough,” said Bruleigh. “Winning Santa Barbara Invitational, while it is nice, is not our goal — it’s just a step along the way.”