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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2018
Contrasting provincial perspectives at Cambrian College
by Cambrian Varsity Athletics

Though things did not go quite as planned for the Cambrian varsity crew that had to deal with the raised expectations built on prior success and playing at home, quite the opposite was true in London, where Golden Shield runners managed to qualify three athletes for nationals.

Certainly, a silver-bronze performance for the women’s tandem of Mary Strain and Emily Marcolini was not the least bit shocking, the pair accounting for back to back OCAA individual championship banners that made their way north in both 2015 and 2016.

The bonus, this time around, was a 24th place finish by freshman Shawn Belanger, highlighted by a final fifty metre sprint that allowed the Collège Notre-Dame graduate to crack the top 25, earning a trip to Sainte-Thérèse (P.Q.) in the process.

Back to the women, for a moment, as a top trio of Janelle Hanna of Fanshawe (22:11), followed by Strain (22:19) and Marcolini (22:37) played out pretty much as predicted. “We had a game plan going in that they would work as a team,” noted Cambrian cross-country head coach Eric Leishman.

“It was really the two of them versus the Fanshawe girl up at the front. They broke away pretty early. By three kilometres, it was them and the rest of the field thirty seconds behind. They started to push the pace at 5 kms. With about 300 metres to go, it was kind of like what happened the last couple of races – Janelle just had a little bit more in the tank.”

There was little, if any, disappointment in the voice of Leishman as he looked back on the bid to three-peat, from a Cambrian perspective, in the women’s race. “They PB’d by about a minute or so,” he noted. “Mary has never run under 23 minutes. You can never be mad about running faster than you ever have before.”

As for his very dedicated male newcomer to the program, Leishman could not have been more pleasantly surprised. “Honestly, he hasn’t run in two weeks with shin issues,” he said. “I put him on the bike for past 14 days or so. He ran perhaps 15 kms in past two weeks. For him, running 28 minutes (28:25 – to be precise) for 8 kms was a huge surprise.”

“To put it into perspective, I was 14th my first year and I ran 29:30,” stated Leishman. “The depth of the middle of the field this year was surprising. He was 26th with about 50 metres to go, he definitely knew that he could sprint and he used that.” The Cambrian troika will head to Quebec on November 11th for nationals, with Ontario expected to be among the favourites on the women’s side.

Of course, being a favourite is not always a good thing. On paper, the Cambrian Golden Shield women’s soccer team was given the nod, in most parts, to overcome the Seneca Sting in the opening round of the 2017 BelairDirect OCAA Women’s Soccer Championships last Thursday at the James Jerome Sports Complex, even if only by the slimmest of margins.

As most now know, the tables were turned for the locals, as Seneca registered a 2-1 victory. The letdown in a season where so much rested on advancing to the Final Four was evident the next day, the Cambrian crew unable to recharge the batteries, eliminated 2-0 by the Mohawk Mountaineers.

But with the benefit of another day or two since the sting of the quarter-final loss (pardon the pun), head coach Giuseppe Politi tried valiantly to maintain a more big picture approach. “I don’t want the season to be looked at as a failure,” he stressed on Sunday. “We were not successful in achieving the goal we had set out.”

“We finished 8-2, we were provincially ranked top three, nationally ranked top nine. We had all-stars, an OCAA MVP, had a chance to challenge for the division. A lot of things did go well, but at the end of the day, our goal was to host provincials and do well, not necessarily winning the whole thing, but certainly winning a medal.”

There is no denying the competitive streak that runs deep within the graduate of St Charles College. It is absolutely the driving force that has radically changed the entire mindset of the young ladies who have donned the Shield soccer jersey in recent years. “When I first took over the program, just making the playoffs was the greatest thing,” he said. “Times have changed.”

It would be naïve to think that there is no price to success. “When you have ambitious goals, you sign up for these things. I’m a straight shooter and I don’t like to sugar coat, and in that sense, we did not achieve the objective that we wanted to achieve.” Politi is fully aware that his direct approach, the bluntness of his assessments, are not always appreciated.

But like most if not all coaches, he has to be true to himself. “Seeing the program go from not even being on the map to where Cambrian is considered a competitor in women’s soccer, raising the standard, those are things I am most proud of.” That legacy has created a foundation, but one which will require substantial tinkering come the fall of 2018.

“We’re going to need a little bit of help all over the field,” said Politi, providing a most forthright answer yet again to the question being asked. “We’re losing a player who scored the most goals in the history of the league, so we are going to need some sort of replacement in a forward position. Our starting lineup is going to look a lot different next year.”

And if the rebuild means that the Cambrian Golden Shield soccer teams are in the post-season mix, Politi is fully prepared to deal with the impact on his team, win or lose. Just being there is at least half the fun.

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