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Local athletes spread their wings and head south
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Athletes are on the move. That’s what they do.

More literally, each and every month, it seems, local teens will spread their wings, departing Sudbury in search of that next great opportunity.

Add the names of Johnny Svalina (golf) and Kiersten Goudreau (basketball) to that list.

A 17 year-old grade 12 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, Svalina has opted to reconnect with former high-school teammate and fellow Idylwylde Golf & Country member Josh Hayes, committing to the Wagner College Seahawks in Staten Island (NY), beginning in the fall of 2022.

And while pretty much every student athlete will stress that it’s academics before athletics, Svalina definitely did his homework in this regard (pardon the pun).

“I made sure to check it out because it is weird coming back to Canada with an American degree sometimes, depending on what you want to do,” noted the aspiring Bachelor of Business Administration major, following something of a family tradition. “I made sure that for this specific undergrad, I would have no issues coming back.”

“My plan is to do my first four years there and then come back and do a masters in something.”

Of course, being situated only 20-30 minutes away from the financial mecca that is Wall Street, attending a post-secondary institution that is replete with internship opportunities is seldom a bad starting point for anyone with an interest in business.

Yet that is only part of the equation, when it comes to receiving an NCAA Division I scholarship offer.

“Two seasons ago, kind of when the pandemic started, is when I really made the jump to pursue a scholarship; I kind of made that a goal,” said Svalina. “I realized that I needed to improve every aspect of my game. When we go down to Toronto as northern Ontario golfers, we realize what the competition is like there.”

“When you then take into account the talent level that exists in the States, it really is quite a drastic jump.”

As the reality of the pandemic first took root in the summer of 2020, Johnny Svalina surged on the course, a very successful few months highlighted by a tournament victory at the CJGA U19 Boys Eastern Ontario Championship in July.

“This season, the consistency was missing a little bit, but overall, my game’s a lot better,” he said. “It was a matter of understanding what it’s going to take fitness-wise and swing-wise, and then doing everything every day to get that much better.”

One final run through the high-school season sealed the deal, as Wagner’s new head golf coach, Jimmy Criscione, remained in contact, eventually having Svalina sign on the dotted line.

“It was a great feeling to know that someone is interested in you,” said the local golfer. “They (Wagner) thought I could add something to the team, and so do I. In moving to the NCAA level, everything is amplified. Tournament scores are going to be lower and the pressure is going to be that much more, which I like.”

“I’ve always been fuelled by the pressure, I’ve always embraced it. I find that I play my best golf under pressure.”

More than anything, Svalina looks forward to the ability to really work on his craft, taking advantage of the types of resources that American college golf can provide.

“I think for me, it started last year when I really put some time diving into my swing,” he said. “I started to break down the patterns in my swing with my coach so that I understood how to fix something if it was off-track.”

“Having the support staff to help me develop that even more is exciting.”

It is, in a sense, that same search for continued development that has led Kiersten Goudreau to accepting an offer to play with Niagara Juel Prep this year, the elder of two children in the family completing her first year of high-school studies at E.L. Crossley Secondary School in Pelham.

“When I came down to visit, I had two practices with them and loved it,” said Goudreau, who nailed a game-winning three pointer a few weeks back in tournament play before going off with a 42-point performance in a high school game more recently. “It just made me love the game even more, practicing with a group that has the same goals as I do.”

“They want to be at the next level; we all push each other.”

Playing up an age group since her introduction to competitive basketball in Sudbury at the age of ten, Goudreau has overcome an initial fear of possessing the ball to the point of now comfortably making an impact on her very first court appearance with Niagara.

“They liked how loud I was and how I worked so well with a team that I didn’t even know,” she said. “I walked into the gym not knowing anyone and I still communicated and found my way around. They said my court sense is really what they loved – and my mid-range in shooting.”

This didn’t happen overnight.

Truly committing to the sport some two years ago, Goudreau worked closely with former Laurentian Voyageur George Serresse, nurturing all aspects of her game. “He’s really the one who helped my shooting form and got it to what it is today,” she said. “I have to have a focus point to look at on the rim and to hold my follow through.”

Additionally, Goudreau has spent plenty of time with L.U. coach Jason Hurley and company, building on a passion that was not deterred when practice venues were not easy to come by.

“During the pandemic, I was playing every day for countless hours,” she noted. “That’s when I started to see I was doing more than some other girls were. I would be outside, on a nice day, putting up around 400 shots and on days that it was rainy and I couldn’t go outside, I was doing ball-handling in the basement.”

Local goaltender Mireille Kingsley can relate to this kind of internal drive. It’s the type of motivation that helped produce a national silver medal winning netminder, one who is now in her second year with the Providence Friars.

This past weekend, Kingsley was recognized as the Hockey East Goaltender of the Week following back to back 40-plus save performances against Boston College. On Friday night, the long-time member of the Sudbury Lady Wolves registered a career-high 42 saves in leading the Friars to a 2-1 victory over the Eagles, closing out the two game set with an impressive save percentage of 96.5%.

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