Amhani Jones is a soccer veteran and playing with the current edition of Squamish United is the most fun she's had playing the beautiful game.
The 16-year-old centre-forward is one of four Pemberton contributors to the team alongside goalkeeper Hannah Leverton, winger Sierra Sproule and defender Kyla Sproule.
Jones is in the younger crop of United players, as many are 17, and she relishes the opportunity to learn alongside older players.
"It's the best team I've been on ever since I've been playing since U12 on the Squamish team," Jones said. "It's been awesome playing with an older team."
United had a little bit extra to play for this year, as head coach Andy King promised the girls they'd go over to his homeland of England for a mini-tour over spring break if they could win the BC Coastal Girls League. United, which posted an 8-1-1 record while scoring 42 goals against 10 allowed, did just that by blanking Port Coquitlam 3-0 in December. Jones noted the dangling carrot of the vacation did provide a touch of extra motivation to the team.
"We all just try our best every game," she said. "I didn't learn (about the trip) at the start of the season. They told me in the middle of the season and I was like 'Oh, that's cool. I'll try harder to go to England.'"
Jones said the tour, from March 29 to April 7, would be her first major soccer sojourn.
King, a 16-year veteran of the Squamish coaching circuit, has coached the girls for the past seven years after nine years on the boys' side. He did the trip with the boys' team a decade ago after they won their league, and felt it was only fair to extend the offer.
King said the team has generally been strong enough, winning tournaments and other events, but this was the first year they finished atop the league.
"Win your league and we'll go to England," he chuckled. "They've been successful as the Squamish girls' team.
"This was the big one because it's the final year; most of the girls are graduating."
United was a team with a strong work ethic, but King noted a slight uptick in their desire once the possibility of travel was on the table.
"I always train them hard anyway but I just think they realized this year that this is it," he reasoned. "I suppose they tried a little bit harder this year, but they've been awesome this year."
United will be based out of Manchester, and will play a pair of friendlies against two girls' teams when across the pond. King said he's trying to finagle tickets to the Manchester United match against Aston Villa while they're in town, but acknowledged that landing 20 could prove difficult. The secondary possibility is the Tottenham at Burnley match just north of Manchester.
"It would be phenomenal if we could get them out to one of these games," he said. "We'll definitely see one game, but which one, we're just not sure yet."
The itinerary also includes a day in London.
The team is hosting a dinner at Pemberton Legion on Friday, March 13 with a meal prepared by The Collective Kitchen's Chef John Ferris, as well as a silent auction. They are also selling sponsorships on their England Challenge poster and gift cards to the Pemberton Valley Supermarket. For more information or to get involved, contact Kathy Leverton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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