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Friday, Sep. 21, 2018
L.U. soccer crew really on a roll
by Randy Pascal

There is a feel of 2004 to the 2017 Laurentian Voyageurs women's soccer season.

The 2004 campaign was the one and only time that coach Rob Gallo and company managed to battle their way right through to the OUA Final Four. In doing so, they featured a tenacious defensive team that opened the season with seven straight shutouts (three wins and four scoreless ties).

"I think there's a lot of similarities, but I think this is a new record unbeaten string," noted Gallo, still on the bus last Sunday, returning from a 1-1 draw with the Trent Excalibur in Peterborough.

In improving to 6-3-3, good for fourth place in the East Division of the OUA, the Voyageurs extended their current unbeaten string to nine games, rebounding in an amazing fashion after dropping their first three encounters of the year.

"I think we're getting quality stops at the right time, our defense is solid, our whole defensive scheme of how we're covering for each other and how we're playing defensively, and then our countering play has been really good. We're getting timely opportunities and converting."

On Saturday, the Laurentian ladies denied the UOIT Ridgebacks a twelfth victory in as many games, holding the first place leaders to a scoreless draw as L.U. keeper Caitlin McNamara recorded her sixth shutout of the year.

"That's a suffocating defense that we throw at teams," Gallo added. "UOIT has two of the best scorers in the country and they were having a hard time, so they just started shooting from long range and that's perfect for McNamara. She picked off a lot of balls."

Challenged to ramp up the intensity meter following an emotional battle against the Ridgebacks, the Sudbury crew managed to salvage a point at Trent when Bianca Breiding headed a shot into the corner in the 89th minute, following a great sideline throw-in from defender Allie Pilon.

With seven starters requiring replacement to begin the 2017 campaign, Gallo was not terribly surprised that it took a week or two for his team to really hit their stride. "We just didn't seem to be settled early on," he said.

"Training camp was so rushed. The turn for me was after losing to Queen's, and we were 0-3 and scheduled to play RMC (Royal Military College) the next day. The girls got together and basically said that they were a better team than we had showed."

Individually, Gallo has a number of shining lights, including veteran Kristy Walton, taking on a starting role for the very first time this fall. "She just never gave up for four years," said Gallo. "That kid has been phenomenal, just really solid in that right fullback position. She's a tenacious defender."

"And then to have Bianca Breiding move to the midfield, she's never played there before, and score her third goal of the year today - those are the things that helped. Sarah Sanford turning her game around, creating a lot of problems for opposing defences."

"We're not too refined through the midfield, we're grinders, but we're a dangerous team on the counter, because we have (Michelle) Walsh on one side, Brianne Rodrigue on the other, fairly quick players, and then we can throw (Mia) De Gasparis in there as well. They are incredible with their pace."

Still, with all that they have accomplished to date, Gallo knows that a strong finish is needed to secure the very valuable advantage of opening the playoffs at home. "Out of town, we're playing on turf fields," he stated.

"At home, we play on grass, and that's been a nice advantage for us. We're comfortable on our field and we get great support. The kids love playing there." They will close out the 2017 regular season with four outings in Sudbury, starting this weekend as the Ryerson Rams (5-5-2) and the University of Toronto Blues (6-5-1) play a visit to Northern Ontario on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

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