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Rookie soccer player flourishes at Vancouver Island University

Talented youth with Powell River ties has physical and mental toughness to go far, say coaches
billy soccer
RISING STAR: In his first year of varsity play for Vancouver Island University’s men’s soccer team, Billy Bagiopoulos is making quite an impression. Contributed photo

In the second week of the Pacific Western Athletic Association 2016/17 soccer season, Powell River’s Billy Bagiopoulos was in seventh spot among the league’s leading scorers. One week later, the 18-year-old Vancouver Island University (VIU) Mariners rookie midfielder had jumped to third place.

By week four Bagiopoulos had taken over as the league’s top scorer. With seven goals in six games, he has held that position since September 26. Four of those goals came in a lopsided 5-1 win over Quest University Kermodes on October 2.

Bagiopoulos’ high school coach is not surprised by his former player’s ability to score in bunches during his first year at university.

“He’s very passionate about the game and dedicated to it. He’s very talented,” said Brooks Secondary School senior boys soccer coach Tony Rice. “You take that hard work and talent and put it together and I’m not surprised at all.”

Bagiopoulos is not originally from Powell River. He first showed up in the halls and on the turf at Brooks in 2013. Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, he moved here with his older sister and mother during that country’s financial upheaval.

He said his mom, who grew up in Powell River, asked her children if they wanted to move because of the crisis.

“We were old enough to understand the situation in Greece and understand we would have a better life here,” said Bagiopoulos. “It was hard to leave family behind, that was the hardest part, so much family, so many friends. My childhood is there, everything.”

There was culture shock when he first arrived, he said. Everything was different, except for the universal game of soccer.

According to Rice, soccer gave Bagiopoulos an instant group of friends at Brooks.

“We see it now with a lot of our international students who come in and start playing on our school teams,” said Rice. “He had a group of people to meet and hang out with.”

According to Bagiopoulos, the curiosity his fellow classmates had about the new Greek student also helped him fit in.

“Everybody was friendly and everybody wanted to know about me because I’m Greek and they thought that was interesting,” he said. “Everybody came up to me, talked to me, asking me questions.”

Rice said Bagiopoulos played on the senior boys team that finished sixth at the BC School Sports provincial championships in 2014.

“He was a key member of that team and scored a lot of goals for us,” said Rice. “That was a real successful team and he was a big part of it.”

In addition to scoring goals for Brooks, Bagiopoulos also scored for Powell River Villa, where he played his community soccer. Now he’s scoring goals for VIU and adjusting to a new level of play.

“There’s still lots to learn,” said Bagiopoulos, an assessment his varsity coach Bill Merrimen also made of the rookie’s play.

“Technically, and the way he finishes a ball, he’s very good,” said Merrimen. “He still has some things to work on because he’s so young, but you can’t coach or teach that calmness he has around the net. It’s up to him how hard he wants to work and where he wants to take his game.”

According to Merrimen, he could see Bagiopoulos play in the Vancouver Whitecaps organization in a couple of years.

“He’s more than capable of doing so,” he said. “I can see him getting there and once he gets into that, the door opens up.”

According to his current and former coaches, the rookie sensation lives and breathes the game.

“He has that personality to go with it, too,” said Merrimen. “He has no ego at all, which is huge as well. That’s why he has a lot of potential, because he has that willingness to learn and take criticism as well as encouragement.”

Bagiopoulos said there is also a kind of pressure he has to learn to take; the pressure he puts on himself.

“I feel a lot of pressure sometimes because I want to do the best I can and I know my abilities,” he said. “There’s a lot of emotion. Since I was in grade two, I always wanted to play footie every day in the backyard with my friends.”