Randy Pascal For The Sudbury Star
There is no doubt that the success of the Cambrian Golden Shield women's soccer team in recent years has helped raised the profile of the school in recruiting circles across the province, creating something of a lure in the hopes of attracting attention from high school soccer talent, notably that talent that resides south of Barrie.
A freshman defender and graduate of Acton District High School with an impressive soccer resume, Jessie Hayward made the decision, relatively early, to attend Cambrian College this fall. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the on-field soccer product was almost an after-thought. This prized recruit comes north courtesy of the appeal of an academic program, and the school itself.
"Cambrian came to my school for a recruitment fair when I was in Grade 10," noted the 18 year old, who is the middle of three girls in the family. "I was going around to all of the tables, because I knew I wanted to be a paramedic, but I had no idea where. I was asking all of the schools about it.
"I didn't know anything about Sudbury, had never even been here," Hayward added. "When I went home, I Googled the school and just fell in love with it. I had to go here. It wasn't so much that I wanted to get out of Acton (located between Guelph and Georgetown). If the school (Cambrian) had been in Acton, I would have gone to it."
This story might not be all that unusual, if not for the background of the multi-sport athlete, specifically on the pitch with the beautiful game.
"I did soccer initially when I was four or five, but I didn't like it, so I quit," Hayward explained. "Then I did gymnastics for a while, then curling, swimming, figure skating, and back to soccer at about nine years old."
By the age of 10, it was a choice between swimming and soccer as the diminutive dynamo – Hayward stands just 5-foot-1, but plays much larger than her height – reached the point of wanting to focus more seriously on a primary pursuit.
"I was told, in Acton, that I was pretty good at soccer, that I should go to skills training," she said. "From there, it was suggested I try out for rep (soccer)."
Though her first few years would take her only marginally further outside of the Acton town limits, suiting up with the Georgetown Mustangs for three full years, her scope would expand through her mid to late teens. She followed a previous coach and some teammates in travelling for a Toronto Lynx U15 squad, adding in stops in Milton, Guelph and Dixie, before returning to the Lynx, who had now become the Toronto Blue Devils.
"It was a lot of travel, but there was a group of us that went together," said Hayward. "The training was intense. With the Lynx, we played Super 'Y', heading to the U.S. every second weekend."
Though her start in soccer would come as an attacking forward, the bulk of her teenage training came at center mid, the very area that she carved out a skill-set that remains the key to her game at Cambrian, even as she now slides back to an outside fullback position.
"I learned about winning the ball and making fast decisions," Hayward noted. "Given my size, I had to stay low and go in hard. I used to get hit a lot, but I learned to take the hit instead of getting hit. And I worked a lot on the fitness. It's definitely one area that you need to keep up on."
Despite her obvious passion for the sport, it was not soccer that was going to be the main determinant when it came to deciding upon a post-secondary institution of choice. "The soccer really wasn't one of my priorities at that time," said Hayward. "I knew that I might want to play, so I asked if they (Cambrian) had a team."
Emailing master coach Giuseppe Politi while still in Grade 10, Hayward was encouraged to hold that thought, at least until closer to her high-school graduation date. Last year, she reconnected with Politi, forwarding video footage of game action, and began a back and forth discussion with women's coach Dayna Corelli.
"We waited until I was accepted into the program, then came down for the open house to meet, and it went from there," recalled Hayward. By the time that late August rolled around, the incoming freshman was chomping at the bit to kick off her OCAA career.
"Everyone was really nice, which was great, and Dayna worked a lot on positioning, which I thought was really good, especially because a lot of us are new this year and we didn't know how Cambrian played, because every team is different."
After opening the schedule with a tough two game home-stand, losing to both the Humber Hawks and Sheridan Bruins, the Cambrian women bounced back nicely to pick up back to back 1-0 wins, on the road, over the Conestoga Condors and the University of Toronto Mississauga Eagles.
"I think we learned who was good at what, and we learned how each other played," said Hayward. "We have started to learn who is fast (Taylor Bellini), who needs the ball at their feet, and who can deke players."
Additionally, Hayward and fellow defending rookie Elizabeth Chisholm have started working through the process of developing back-end chemistry with both defensive vets Jenelle St Jean and Kiana Houben, as well as keeper Megan Coutu.
"She (Coutu) tells us to move up and stuff, but she doesn't yell at us like some goalies do," Hayward acknowledged. "Some goalies get really mad at their players. I find that Megan never does, which is good. I find that it a goalie gets mad at me, it just doesn't help."
The Golden Shield women hope to put all of the learning to the test in a key encounter this weekend. After playing the George Brown Huskies to a 3-3 draw in Toronto last Sunday (Julia Jajkowska scored twice and Bellini had one goal), the two teams are back at it again in Sudbury at noon on Saturday.