After going a combined 0-4 against the Vancouver Thunderbirds and Khalsa Sporting Club during the regular season, the Okanagan Challenge headed into the Pacific Coast Soccer League championship tournament as the decided underdogs.
So much for labels.
The Challenge knocked off both opponents over the weekend in Penticton to capture their second PCSL crown in three years.
In Sunday’s finale, a dramatic conclusion saw the Challenge go to penalty kicks to post a 3-2 victory (5-4 in the shootout) over Khalsa to capture the coveted Challenge Cup.
Sam Hwang connected for the go-ahead goal in the shootout, then the Challenge turned to keeper Michael Sheridan who made the final save to clinch the win.
“I think the guys deserved to be there and they deserved to win,” said first-year head coach Kelly Wolverton. “I think the guys are very worthy of being the best team in this league.”
Justin Wallace and Nick Aguilar scored in regulation to give the Challenge the lead 88 minutes in, before Khlasa tied it up in the dying seconds to force the extra time.
Rookie head coach Kelly Wolverton said that’s when his team’s resolve and determination really kicked in—despite allowing the late lead to slip away.
“The resiliency they showed in that situation was awesome,” he said. “It could have been pretty deflating, but it didn’t kill us, it didn’t stop the guys from what they were trying to do. I’m really proud of what they accomplished and no one can take it away.”
In a season of ups and downs, it all came together at the opportune time for rookie head Wolverton and his squad.
The Challenge played much of the season with a reduced roster—often with as few as 12 to 14 players on the pitch—but still managed a 5-5-2 record and the fourth and final playoff spot.
“There were a lot of obstacles,” said Challenge manager Josh Leins. “The guys put a lot of work into this and were rewarded for it.”
The Challenge opened the weekend with a 3-1 win Saturday afternoon over the Thunderbirds, a team they lost to twice during the regular season, 1-0 and 6-0.
“It was probably our best game of the season,” Wolverton said of the win over Vancouver.
It was the second straight year the Challenge went to extra time and penalty kicks in the PCSL final as they lost in the final last year to the Thunderbirds.
Wolverton will now head back to Tennessee where he will rejoin the coaching staff at The University of the South men’s soccer program in Sewanee.