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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
A home playoff game the next goal for L.U. soccer men
by Randy Pascal

It will take a mix of the old and the new (and the "newish") for the Laurentian Voyageurs men's soccer team to reach the promised land, but if it all comes together the way that veteran head coach Carlo Castrechino would like, the team will springboard from a very successful 2017 campaign to their first home playoff game since 2013.

Building around first team all-star keeper and St Benedict Catholic Secondary School graduate Conor Vande Weghe, Castrechino has cobbled together a lineup that features some key experienced vets, some youngsters that showed well last year, others with an injury-riddled past, and an incoming class of freshman no less than 13 strong.

"Every year is a tough year, no matter what, when you're playing in the OUA," said Castrechino at practice this week, his team opening up with a very stiff test in the form of a visit from the defending provincial silver medal winning Carleton Ravens on Saturday.

"We would like to build off what we did last year," added Castrechino. "We beat Queen's, we took points off Ryerson, we took points off U of T. It was big for us to do that and it gave these guys some confidence. I think we're looking to get that home playoff game now, that's the next goal."

After graduating Mackenzy Kropa from the back line, the former L.U. striker is hoping that talented Burlington native Daniel Correa will finally enjoy a healthy campaign in his third year in Sudbury, tackling the centerback role while flanked, on one side, with second team all-star Liam Ezzard.

The loss of Aaron D'Souza will hurt - the 3rd year defender tore his achilles during the summer and is out for the year - but the progress shown by young up and comers like Roman Lovrencec and local product Domynik Huot will hopefully help to fill that void.

Though the midfield is a little banged up heading into league action, the depth that has been provided by a crew that includes all-star Evan Stronach, 5th year Dean Pizolinas, Carver Grenon (2nd), Jacob Gramenega (2nd) and all-star Nico Correa (3rd year, but out a few weeks with ACL/MCL strain) has Castrechino breathing a little easier than in some seasons.

"Our depth is stronger this year than it has been in many years," he said. "We've got five solid recruits and some walk-ons that surprised us." The bumps and bruises in the middle of the pitch might well allow rookies like Nick Esperanca and Arshjit Pelia to garner some valuable experience, while hopefully acclimatizing themselves quickly to the post-secondary soccer ranks.

Up front, it won't be easy to compensate for the graduation of Ayden Meilleur, but a trio of Zef Kraja (5th year - three goals in 2017), Sault Ste Marie sophomore Kristian Shuttleworth (played the summer with GSSC U21 men) and 2018 CND graduate Noah LaSorsa is anxious for the opportunity to shine.

While three-time team MVP Connor Vande Weghe has a lock on the starting position in net, Castrechino is hoping to get second year keeper Adam Scanlon more playing time this fall, more than confident in his heir apparent.

Even the local flavour has an interesting mix as Jacxsen Cress looks to make the jump directly from Lively District Secondary School, while Walden native Grayden Henschel returns north after spending a couple of years studying at Carleton University in Ottawa.

"Carleton, Ryerson and U of T are the three teams at the top, and we want to get ourselves in that mix," said Castrechino. "We have to get comfortable together, quickly, as a team. The incoming rookies will have to mesh quickly in order to achieve that."

Both Laurentian soccer teams are hosting their 2018 openers on Saturday, the ladies facing Carleton at noon, while the men take to the pitch at 2:15 p.m. That gives way to just a single contest on Sunday as the women Voyageurs match up against the Ottawa Gee Gees, also at 12:00 p.m.

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