Some of the Sudbury teams making their way to OFSAA soccer championships later this week do so with the knowledge that they are representing schools for whom the trek to the all-Ontario playdowns was historically a virtual rite of passage, such was the strength of their program with “The Beautiful Game” (here’s looking at you, St Charles College).
Others still will enter this environment knowing that few if any of their predecessors in soccer at their particular place of study had ever enjoyed the experience before them (a tip of the cap goes out to the Horizon Aigles, laying claim to the SDSSAA Open Premier Girls banner for the first time ever in school history).
Regardless of the backdrop, there are four very excited local formations making their way to host cities ranging from London to Belle River, with Jordan Station also in the mix.
While the St Charles College Cardinals boys did manage to cap off an undefeated regular season with SDSSAA and NOSSA triumphs over the very same Lo-Ellen Park Knights on both occasions, there is little doubt that the 4-1 victory in their more recent event was far more convincing that the overtime 3-2 thriller they contested in the city final.
“They came at us out of nowhere, with a lot of pressure on us – and they got a quick goal,” recalled centerback Tyler Thibodeau of the initial Sudbury showdown. “Our heads were down, but we got back in the game and fought hard. When we played Lo-Ellen again at NOSSA, we made sure that we did not come out over-confident.”
“We came out really strong and got on the board ten minutes into the game.”
Braxton Ragogna scored twice to lead the SCC attack, with singles from Nathan Cranston and Kamal Oduwole, with Ousama Qarquouz countering in a losing cause. Still, for as much as a St Charles entry has been pretty much the norm at OFSAA every year, this remains a somewhat tentative group that is heading south for the first post-Covid event.
“We don’t have any set expectations,” said Thibodeau. “We’re honestly pretty nervous to go down there. We are in the AAA group and we’ve heard a lot of things about the AAA groups. We’re just trying to go down, perform our best and get a good result.”
Normally, that might be the same for the Horizon Aigles, city champs after running the table and looking even more impressive in stopping the Confederation Chargers 7-2 in the NOSSA “A” final. Normally, one would hope that the senior prom and OFSAA do not conflict, as is the case this June, with only 13 members of the Aigles able to make the trip to the Windsor area for provincials.
Still, with the younger Horizon core including the likes of Kiara Levac (five goals vs CFD in final), Kiana Levac and Brooke Dugas among the core who will be present – all three are key members of the GSSC U17 Impact team – all hope is certainly not lost for the squad that carried so much promise into 2022.
“I know at tryouts, I saw a few pretty skilled players,” said Danika Lalonde, a 17 year old grade 12 student who will have to bypass OFSAA but is still heading off the SUNY Canton in upstate New York to pursue her hockey dreams in the fall. “There was even talk then that we were going to be the team to beat; that’s what Impact coaches were saying.”
“We haven’t been the strongest in the past, but maybe this would be our year.”
Mixing in the likes of Lalonde and former club players Alexie Olivier and Jessy Landry with their top-end talent, the Aigles managed to overcome every hurdle, even in a semi-final affair without their leading scorer. “We had to remain strong in all areas of the field, especially the middle,” said Lalonde.
“We put some really key players in the middle of the field, even if they didn’t play Impact. Our main goal was to stay very strong defensively.”
The Confederation Chargers boys team who will carry the NOSSA hopes into the OFSAA “A” event just outside of Niagara Falls surprised many by finishing second in league play (behind only St Charles), despite having only two club players on their roster. At NOSSA, the Valley boys blanked the Franco Cité Patriotes (6-0) and Algonquin Barons (2-0) in back to back games.
“We have really good coaches to help us, even if we don’t know much about soccer, to make sure we try and use our athletic ability to get everything done on the field, to use our height and athleticism to score some goals and win some games,” said Matt Bamberger of the team that is coached by former Laurentian Voyageur Brad Smith.
For those with GSSC experience, the improvements that surround them are tangible. “I think everyone moves off the ball better,” noted attacking midfielder Braydon Ethier-Perras, who scored a second half goal to double the advantage initially provided by Landon Doyle and allow keeper Owen Taylor to focus on maintaining the clean sheet.
“At the start, everyone was focused on having the ball. Now, they will make runs behind the defense a lot better, a lot smoother.”
And in this particular case, the lessons of experience were apparently at the head of the class.
“I don’t think we focused on teaching that," added Ethier-Perras. "I think it just happened naturally. The more we played, the more they realized they had to move off the ball.”
Rounding out the local OFSAA participants are the College Notre-Dame Alouettes, 6-2 winners over the West Ferris Trojans in the NOSSA “AAA” gold medal game. The Begic sisters accounted for five of the six goals – Natalia had three, with Andrea adding a pair – as Myla Weiman chipped in with a solo tally.