by Randy Pascal
Coming off a season in which expectations were sky high, the Cambrian Golden Shield women's soccer team hosting the OCAA championships with their sights set on a podium finish last fall, there is something to be said for more moderate goals twelve months later.
With far more turnover than has been the case the past few years, a new coaching staff was keenly aware of the need to remain grounded in reality. "At the beginning of training camp, we looked at our team and did not expect much," noted Evan Phillips, who took over the reins in week two of the season, when Dayna Corelli had to step away from the post.
"We thought playoffs, at best – let's just get there. Our first week on the road, we beat Conestoga and UTM (University of Toronto - Mississauga), so we were cautiously optimistic." A two game final homestand that would Cambrian edge the Conestoga Condors 2-1 on Saturday before playing to a scoreless draw with the UTM Eagles on Sunday improved the Shield record to 4-4-2, good for third place in the OCAA Central Division.
As such, the women will enjoy home field advantage next Sunday (October 21st), welcoming the Fleming Knights (5-5-1) from Peterborough to Sudbury for a 12:00 p.m. game time, the teams vying for a spot in the provincial championships following the elimination cross-over game.
The reality is that it did not take long at all for the Cambrian crew to realize that there might be more potential here than initially meets the eye. "We had a lot of first years coming in and we didn't exactly know where they fit," said Phillips. "That first weekend, against those two really good teams (Humber and Sheridan), we learned quickly where people were at their best."
"From there, it was a matter of building up their confidence over the next 5-6 weeks to get them to where they are now. I think we just figured out where we needed to put people. Once that happened, everything else just fell into place."
Sault Ste Marie native Taylor Bellini is one of a multitude of new players showcasing their skills this fall at the New Sudbury campus. A fourth year transfer student from the Algoma Thunderbirds program, the 22 year old lifelong soccer talent is completing her post-secondary education with a one year Human Resources graduate program at Cambrian.
"Taylor is the most senior player on our roster, by far," said Phillips. "She's older, she's played at the OUA level. We knew right from the get go that she was going to be one of our main offensive threats. We had to find the place where she could succeed the most."
"I feel like I have to take on a little bit of a leadership role, with being the oldest," said Bellini. "I am also coming on to this team playing a position that I've never really played before. With Algoma, I used to play striker and here at Cambrian, they have me on the wing. I am filling a spot that they think I am best at, and that makes the most contribution to the team."
Though it may not be readily apparent, right off the hop, there are certainly some subtle differences between the two attacking roles. "At striker, I really only focused on the offensive part," said Bellini. "Now, playing wing, there are times when I have to come back and play a defensive role. When I was playing striker, I was more of a goal scorer."
"On the wing, I set up plays and am more of a playmaker, crossing the ball, which is something that I never did as much with my other team." A very short season mixed in with a massive turnover on the roster could be cause for concern with most incoming freshman. Thankfully, Bellini had an unexpected ace in her pocket that made the transition just a little bit easier for her.
"Giuseppe (Politi) and my coach at Algoma (Neil Ovey) trained together, so their coaching styles are somewhat similar," she said. "There are some things that are different, but now that I am here and I hear Giuseppe talking, it's things that I've heard from my coach at Algoma for years."
If the positional switch for Bellini was somewhat seamless, the same could not be said for fellow freshman Elizabeth Chisholm. Also a striker through much of her youth, a resume largely dotted with experience with the Burlington Bayhawks' club system in her hometown, Chisholm would be asked to step in at centerback, a critical element in the defensive backline, for the Shield.
"The first few games, I told them (my teammates) to just tell me absolutely everything for the whole game, just direct me everywhere," said Chisholm. "After a few games, I started getting comfortable and started understanding exactly where I needed to be. Now, I'm at the point where I am pretty much settled in at that position, even though this is my first year I have been playing it."
Despite their 0-2 start, outscored 8-0 in those outings by two of the OCAA's most elite teams, the Shield squad could see light at the end of the tunnel, enjoying a steady progression that has ultimately culminated with another home playoff contest. "I'm not really surprised, because I know that when we all work hard and we are all on our game, we can play really well together," said Chisholm.
"It was a goal for us to make the playoffs, so I'm happy that we made it." In fact, given the early expectations, there might be even more to it than that. "It's been a surprisingly good year for the girls when it wasn't expected to be," summarized Phillips.
The Cambrian men were not quite so fortunate. After keeping their playoff hopes alive with a 1-1 tie with Conestoga on Saturday, the Shield lads would see their final outing gradually unravel, trailing 1-0 to UTM at the half, surrendering back to back goals in the 52nd and 56th minutes, and eventually dropping a 6-0 decision that would keep them out of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Masoud Mahmoud netted the only goal of the game Saturday for Cambrian, while Julia Jajkowska buried a pair of tallies to account for all of the offense in the women's victory over Conestoga.