It's a random process, but the 2014 Challenge Cup draw was a favourable one for the Tillsonburg Hoogenboom Farms U15 girls soccer team.
Their first London District Youth Soccer League opponent in the U15 Rec division had not won a game. Advancing with a 4-0 win, the Titans met London Southend in the semifinals Sunday afternoon, both played at the Tillsonburg Minor Soccer Park, and dodged division front-runners Dorchester and St. Thomas who collided in the other semi.
The U15 Titans started the 2014 season with a scoreless tie (Southend) and convincing 4-1 win over Nairn. It was a balanced offensive effort, with goals from Inge Hoogenboom, Kelsey Sanderson, Lisa Richter, and Tori Kilbourne. And it was the last time four-goal night until August 14.
Over the next weeks, three ties and three one-goal losses added up to a slow start. By mid-July, the Hoogenboom Farms U15s had as many ties as wins and losses combined (1-3-4).
"A very slow start," said U15 girls coach Mark Boyle. "But the girls are undefeated in the last five games (including Saturday's Challenge Cup quarter-final win), so we're doing good. But it was a slow start.
"Defensively the team is doing very well. We have a young team – we play U15 but half the team is a year or two younger – and we're doing well in spite of that. Defensively, I think we're one of the strongest in the league. It's just that at the beginning of the season it was tough putting the ball in the net... somewhat like today's game."
From July 24 to August 14 the team won four straight league matches, all shutouts. Tillsonburg climbed to fourth (tied with North London) in the nine-team LDYSL U15 Recreational Girls standings, one point behind third-place Southend.
Tillsonburg's Challenge Cup run began Saturday afternoon with a 4-0 win over the Norwest Bobcats in the quarter-finals. Emma Boyle, Inge Hoogenboom, Kelsey Sanderson and Mekenna Mentor scored for the Titans, and goalie Odett Kocsis earned her seventh shutout of the LDYSL season.
Sunday afternoon, Southend United blanked Tillsonburg 1-0 in the Challenge Cup semifinals, advancing to play division-leading Dorchester in the finals.
"We played this Southend team closely both games this season and again this game," said coach Boyle, recalling the season-opening 0-0 draw and subsequent 1-0 loss on July 10.
"But we had most of the play. We had a couple right on the goal line, a couple of close shots."
A final scramble in Southend's crease, with less than five minutes left to play, had Southend's goalie lying prone, three Tillsonburg attackers and three Southend defenders almost within arm's distance, and one loose ball. But Southend safely cleared to preserve the 1-0 lead.
"That was the third one like that, we had two others earlier," said Boyle. "The girls were hungry, they were trying to get in there. It just didn't bounce for us."
The Hoogenboom Farms U15 season winds down with games against North London on August 21, and the front-runners, Dorchester and St. Thomas on the 25th and 28th.