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Brian Ashton and his new team looking to brighter days ahead

This is not the start that Brian Ashton envisioned to his university soccer coaching career.

Last August, Ashton would step on to the field to run the training camp for the Laurentian Voyageurs women's soccer team for the first time, only days after being named to the role as the second head coach in team history, replacing Rob Gallo, who had retired from the post.

This August, Ashton would be only too happy to receive a day or two of notice in order to ensure that he could be together with his players for his sophomore season along the sidelines - if not for this pesky pandemic.

"I feel bad for the players," said Ashton, who remains very much in limbo, at the moment, certain only of the fact that neither L.U. nor any other U Sport soccer side will contest a schedule, of any sort, in the fall of 2020.

"I think we were looking good," he added. "I think we would have been stronger than we would have been the previous year."

Part of the optimism for Ashton stems from his approach in putting together his roster in 2019, one which might not have sat well with every single member of the team that he inherited.

"I didn't care if you had been here for four years or only one year, the best players will play," noted the former captain of the Toronto Lynx professional soccer team. "If the fourth year player was not going to be an impact player, it made more sense to me to get to know the younger players, the ones I could work with in the coming years."

"I think that ruffled some feathers."

Understandably, Ashton is anxious to put his stamp on his team. While he remains extremely appreciative of the support that Gallo provided in year one, remaining aboard to assist substantially with a brand new administrative process for his successor, it is time to cut the umbilical cord.

"There are traditions that Rob had put in that I will definitely keep, but there are some changes," said Ashton. "I need some changes to make it mine. This would have been the first year for my first recruits, the players that I can call my players - and now they are having to deal with this."

"This was still going to be a very young team, and that, in itself, was a positive thing," he continued. "It was going to be a young team that was going to get a couple of years in with me, learn the philosophy of how I wanted to run things."

With a record of 2-8-4, the Voyageurs missed the playoffs for a second straight year in Ashton's U Sport coaching debut. That said, under Gallo, the team were on the outside of post-season play looking in only once, in 2007, in the 14 fall seasons that preceded the 2018 campaign.

That is a legacy that Ashton wishes to perpetuate. "Sometimes I get reminded that I might not have success right away, that it may take a few years," he said. "But we are starting to make connections with some of the big, big clubs down south, the ones that can help us fill our voids."

"It's about bringing in good, quality players, players who can help us not only just make the playoffs, but challenge for a championship in a few years."

In terms of his biggest lessons from his rookie coaching experience, Ashton points to a level of personal interaction with his athletes. "One of the things that I am learning every day is learning that line of communication," he stated.

"I may need to speak and be more clear, having those conversations with players about where they stand, where they fit in, which is really important. Once they know that, it's easier for them to know their role."

Mind you, pretty much anything will be easier than the first two falls that Brian Ashton has witnessed with the Laurentian Voyageurs women's soccer team.

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