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Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018
High-school soccer season ramps up quickly
by Randy Pascal

Don't blink or you will miss it.

That could well be the promotional tag-line for the 2018 SDSSAA soccer season.

Already a condensed schedule at the best of times, this particular spring/summer campaign has been congested even further thanks to a winter of snow that seemed like it would never let go.

The end result, for those of us that follow this loop closely, is effectively a three-week regular schedule that leads quickly into playoff action beginning the Thursday prior to the Victoria Day long weekend.

More comforting, perhaps, are early signs that point to some outstanding races that will be contested in a few divisions displaying even more parity than usual.

Given that the Open Premier Girls grouping has crowned five different schools as champions since 2013 – Notre-Dame, Lockerby, St Charles, St Benedict and Macdonald-Cartier, in that order, if you're keeping tabs – this balance across the board should hardly come as a surprise.

Coaches Jason Weiler, Dan Bartolucci and their Marymount Regals would love nothing more than to make it six in six for the above-noted listing.

“We're a younger team, our base is really grade 10s, 11s, with a couple of grade nines thrown in there,” noted Weiler, shortly after his team improved to 2-0-0 thanks to a 1-0 win on Thursday over CND. “We don't have a lot of grade 12s.”

Which is not to say that this team does not have plenty of soccer talent on hand. “We move the ball around really well, possess the ball, work the ball up the field as a team,” he added. “It's definitely the nicest soccer that I've ever coached with the team.”

“You can see that they have a plan to work the ball up, whether it's getting the backs involved, or the midfielders working it to our strikers in the middle. It's a really nice team game.” It certainly doesn't hurt that a core of the Regals roster have benefited from competitive soccer training and provincial competition over the years.

“We do have a lot of girls that play with Brian (Ashton) and that helps a lot, makes my job a lot easier,” said Weiler. “For us, it's all about working as a team. It's working that passing, positional play and getting everybody involved in a system.”

In this regard, Weiler believes that the academic setting provides a wonderful complement to the Marymount athletic representation. “I think it's a product of our school,” he suggested. “The girls are all friends with each other, and it doesn't matter if they're in grade 12 or grade nine. I think they pride themselves on watching each other get better.”

Though a city championship may still be a year or two away, Lasalle Lancers' head coach Matt Cootes is confident his girls team is on the verge of moving up in the conversation with the SDSSAA elite. “We've got a lot of young talent coming in,” he said. “The grade nine class has really bolstered us. While we lost some talent from last year, we've also gained a lot.”

“The young ones coming through are really exciting, fast and aggressive. We're in a bit of a different spot than we have been in the past. We can be more aggressive with this team, from the front through the back. In the past, we've generally relied on a few key players, but I think we're stronger in that sense.”

“Our ability to hold on to the ball is much better,” said Cootes. “We can deliver passes, find spaces.” The Lancers dropped their only game of week one, 2-0 to College Notre-Dame, but certainly appear to be headed in the right direction.

Looking to atone for a 2-1 loss to Macdonald-Cartier in the city final last year, the St Charles College Cardinals are also off and running, winning their first two encounters by a combined score of 13-0.

Finally, don't discount the Confederation Chargers, with Laurentian alumnus Brad Smith certain that his team has also taken a step forward this year, opening 2018 with a 4-2 win over Lockerby.

Some might suggest the Senior Premier Boys division is offering mixed signals. On the one hand, the two time defending champion St Charles College Cardinals are already 2-0-0 in week one, outscoring opponents 10-0. But with victories over the Lively Hawks and Sacré-Coeur Griffons, their toughest games still lie ahead.

With coaches Erik and Kristy (Mackenzie) Hebert at the helm, the Cards still must face the College Notre-Dame Alouettes in week two and the Lo-Ellen Park Knights one week later, both sides fully confident that they can contend in 2018.

“Last year, we had a bit of a disappointing season,” noted second year Alouettes' coach and former player (in 2016) Dominik Valentic. “This year, we have more unity, more communication. Overall, I think we have a better team.”

In a division that has already featured a scoreless draw and a 1-0 win, there is little doubt where the focus for Valentic and company needs to be against the big boys. “Finishing, scoring goals,” he asserted. “Last year, that's where we lacked a little bit. We have to find the net more often, like we did today (in a season opening 4-0 win over Sacré Coeur).”

Despite sitting at 2-0-0, the Lo-Ellen Park Knights are not exactly lighting it up offensively. Thankfully, they have been near flawless defensively, allowing keeper Lucas Lachapelle to post back to back shutouts. “I've got a pretty strong back-end, with a few boys that are active in the soccer community with Brian Ashton and Giuseppe Politi,” said head coach Mike Spourdalakis. “That helps considerably.”

“The league is evenly matched and defense is going to be the key to the wins. We were disciplined, we played good positional soccer, and we capitalized on our opportunities.”

Key match-ups this week include Confederation and Marymount on Monday at 3:30 p.m., a Notre Dame/St Charles double-header on Tuesday (2:00/3:30), and a Lockerby and Lo-Ellen boys encounter Thursday at 5:00 p.m. All games are scheduled at the James Jerome Sports Complex.

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