There is no denying that within the OCAA women’s soccer circuit, the Cambrian Golden Shieldare viewed as legitimate championship contenders. And part of the rationale in bidding to host the 2017 OCAA Provincials was the additional motivation that could be provided in terms of trying to attract those final few pieces that might be just enough to put the team over the top, improving on previous bronze medal performances.
Unfortunately, the question as to whether Cambrian is ready to make that next leap forward, to garner a first ever berth at nationals, is still no more certain than it was a few weeks back. To be sure, the squad that coach Giuseppe Politi has assembled has the ability to dominate mid-level competition, as was evident in a 6-0 whitewashing of the Conestoga Condors this past Sunday.
Tiffany Johnson and Courtney Ceccarelli scored two goals apiece in a match that could have easily finished with an even more lopsided score. “It could have been more with the number of quality chances we created,” noted Politi. “We were able to get everyone in and allow some players to rest, while giving others their debuts and the minutes to garner some experience.”
The fact is that this beat-down would come on the heels of another disappointing loss, as the Golden Shield held a 1-0 lead through to the 65th minute against the Humber Hawks on Saturday, surrendering the go ahead and insurance tallies in a span of just four minutes with less than ten minutes to play.
This is a scenario that Politi has seen before, and one which he dearly hopes his team is able to avoid come late October in Sudbury. “This game was one that slipped away,” he acknowledged. “We should have been up more than 1-0 at halftime, and then in the second half, we made a few errors to allow Humber back into the game.”
In a sense, it really does boil down to the glass being viewed as half empty or half full. “Humber is the defending silver medalist in Ontario, so to compete and deserve a better fate is something the girls can use as motivation going forward.”
Politi is certainly a shrewd enough coach to recognize the importance of his overall team psyche in this whole equation. Those who have been part of the scene in recent years will need to find a way to overcome what has become something of a mental block if the Shield are to ascend to new heights.
“We still have some work to do,” conceded netminder Megan Coutu, a third year nursing student and graduate of Collège Notre-Dame. “We need to be better defensively and capitalize on the chances that we do get. And we can’t shut down if something doesn’t go our way. If they score, we need to be able to pick it up, move forward and try and get the lead back.”
As she surveys the team in front of her, Coutu does so with the confidence that the local squad is better positioned for this challenge than either the 2015 or 2016 editions of the team. “I think it’s different, this year, in the sense that we have players coming from all over, quite honestly,” she said. She points to the addition of Gabby Conrad, Jenna Schroeder and Samantha Innocenteas reasons for optimism. Additionally, a divisional move has created a regular season that better prepares the Cambrian women for the rigours of OCAA playdowns.
“This division is for sure a lot tougher than the previous years,” said Coutu. The Golden Shield have spent the past several years competing in the OCAA East, with the Algonquin Thundersettled in as the only other legitimate threat to secure a podium finish. “It’s also tough because we don’t know what to expect from these teams, we never play them.”
“But with it being tougher, it really helps prepare us for provincials and what we are going to face there.” As much as the regular season is about laying the groundwork for the playoffs, there is still a push to secure every available point, as Cambrian takes to the road for the first time this weekend, battling George Brown and Sheridan.
“Even though we are guaranteed a spot at provincials, we obviously want to do well within the division so that we face a lower ranked opponent in the quarter finals,” noted Coutu. “We want to be at provincials before we’ve earned it, not just because we’re hosting.”
Ironically, the highlight of the Cambrian soccer weekend likely came in the fourth and final outing that was hosted in New Sudbury. Masoud Mahmood broke a scoreless tie in the 72nd minute, lifting the Shield past Conestoga 1-0 to their first victory of the season against a pair of losses to Sheridan and Humber.
“This game was more important than most realize,” stated Politi. “To keep a realistic path to a playoff spot (the top four of six in the division advance), we needed the win. It was not pretty by any means, but the boys got the job done when it counted.”
In other Cambrian varsity news, defending OCAA cross-country champion Mary Strain opened a new season with an all-too-familiar result, capturing top spot at the Fanshawe Invitational on Saturday. Strain covered the 6km course in a time of 23:05, sixteen seconds ahead of Janelle Hanna from Fanshawe.