Eight teams gathered together, in Sudbury, all with a singular goal.
The host Cambrian Golden Shield will welcome the Humber Hawks, Algonquin Thunder, Fanshawe Falcons, St Clair Saints, Seneca Sting, Mohawk Mountaineers and Durham Lords to Northern Ontario for the 2017 BelairDirect OCAA Women’s Soccer Championships later this week.
Play begins on Thursday, with four games on the slate, as St Clair and Humber kick things off at 9:00 a.m. at the James Jerome Sports Complex, Cambrian and Seneca closing off day one with a contest that starts at 6:00 p.m.
Make no mistake – this is entirely what the past three months have been all about for Cambrian coach Giuseppe Politi and his team. “We’ve been talking all season, counting down the time to provincials,” acknowledged Politi. “That’s how we’ve tried to keep them focused.”
“We don’t want to go overboard, creating anxiety. That being said, a lot of players on this team have the experience from provincials the past three years. I’m hoping that we can tap into that experience of how to deal with high pressure situations, not panicking at certain moments, finishing the game all the way to its entirety.”
St Charles College graduate Courtney Ceccarelli is among those being alluded to by her coach, a four year veteran with the team. “The older players can help the rookies to get a feel for everything,” said the 22 year old winger. “We do have a lot of older returning girls and they, for sure, can help the confidence of the younger players.”
The names have become common place, repeated over the course of an 8-2 regular season campaign, or in prior years, on squads which have already produced a pair of bronze medals for the local program: Tiffany Johnson, Clarissa McArthur, Dana Isaia, Megan Coutu, Jenelle St Jean, Alex Ross, Marissa Falvo, Morgan Melnek – newcomers Gabby Conrad, Jenna Schroeder and Samantha Innocente added to the mix this fall.
It’s a group that has a very clear idea of their path to success. “I think we just have to play our game,” said Ceccarelli. “When we’re on, we get our finishing, we have a very strong defensive line, we have a very strong offense. As a team, we need to play together, and then we can produce.”
Every single cog in this wheel has garnered an appreciation for exactly what they bring to the mix. “I pretty much have the same role as I did last year,” stated Melnek, a graduate of Bishop A Carter Catholic Secondary School and one time member of the OSA provincial team program. “My job is to get the ball, turn and distribute, which plays to my vision. With this team, I don’t want to hold on to the ball too long, just make the pass so we can score.”
“We all know our roles out on the field,” Melnek added. “As a team, we all need to be not just physically into the game, but mentally into the game. We need to all show up, mentally and physically, for the game on Thursday, and we can do well.”
While Cambrian fans might not be crazy about a current forecast that calls for plenty of rain with temperatures falling, that is exactly the setting that Politi and company would prefer. “Teams down south are not used to the cold weather that we get,” explained Ceccarelli. “For sure, it would be to our advantage a little bit. With the rain on the turf, it can be anybody’s game, but if there is any advantage, it should be ours.”
After playing on the grass field of the New Sudbury campus for their five home games to date, the Golden Shield and their opponents will battle it out on the turf of James Jerome for provincials, a change that does little to detract from the strengths of the Cambrian crew.
“I think in terms of the fact that we have a quick team, it’s going to help us,” said Ceccarelli. “I know that it’s a little bit tougher for clearances and getting the ball up, but as far as playing the ball on the ground, our through ball and our offense, it’s going to help us for sure.”
With their game one adversary now confirmed, the locals can now complete their preparation for Seneca, the very same team they blanked 1-0 in order to lay claim to third place in the OCAA last October. “We know their style, it’s possession based,” said Politi. “It’s not like we will have to make crazy adjustments.”
“If we do the things that we can do well and we minimize errors, I’m confident that we can compete and beat Seneca. This is the first time, on paper, that we look like the team that should win. We’re seeded higher than them, but Seneca will be tough.”
Somewhat cautiously optimistic by nature, Politi knows exactly the talent that he has at his disposal in a year that he has termed the “peak of a cycle”. “On paper, this is the strongest team we’ve ever had,” he noted. “On paper, this is probably the most mature team we’ve ever had, one that’s been through the highs and the lows.”
“For me, right now, I’m aiming for a medal.” Rounding out the 2017 Cambrian roster are: Sydney Hutchins, Ashley Nollner, Kayleigh Coufal, Kaitlin Houben, Brianna Scarfone, Kaitlyn Rocca, Kianna Pearson-Houben, Ella Sullivan, Alexis Belanger, Emily Derks, Megan Smithand assistant coaches Matt Binks, Dayna Corelli, Stephane Legrand and Evan Phillips.
Algonquin enter the OCAA playdowns as the two-time defending champs, and gold medal winners in three of the past four years. Of the teams on hand this year, Humber (7), Algonquin (6), Fanshawe (6), Durham (5), Seneca (3), St Clair (1) and Mohawk (1) have all captured the banner at least once since provincials were launched in 1984.
In other Cambrian varsity news, both the men’s and women’s volleyball teams earned a week one split, with both groups sweeping past the Collège Boréal Vipères last Wednesday before having the tables turned Saturday against Fanshawe.
Finally, coach Eric Leishman and the Cambrian cross-country team are off to London this coming weekend, also for the OCAA Championships. Leading the way for the Shield will be defending women’s gold medal winner Mary Strain, who went on to earn silver at nationals in Sault Ste Marie in 2016.