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A Sudbury soccer round-up - from A to V
2022-09-03

While the majority of local soccer leagues have now concluded play for the summer, there are a small handful of teams whose season is only just beginning.

Such is the confluence of early fall when it comes to the beautiful game in northern Ontario.

On Saturday afternoon (at 1:00 and 3:15 p.m.), the Laurentian Voyageurs women’s and men’s teams kick off their OUA schedule with a double-header battle versus the Trent Excalibur.

A week later, the Cambrian Golden Shield will welcome the Algonquin Wolves and St Lawrence Surge to town as OCAA soccer action grabs the spotlight in Sudbury.

Coming off a 2-7-1 season in 2021, coach Brian Ashton and the Laurentian women return a starting lineup comprised almost entirely of seniors, giving way to the most optimism seen in these parts since the Sudbury Hall of Famer was named to the post in August of 2019.

“I feel more confident with this group than I have in any year since I’ve been here,” said Ashton, former team captain of the Toronto Lynx. “We’ve got a great group of girls here who really listen. They’ve bought into the system that we try and play and they play it. There’s no real pushback.”

“They ask questions, but they give me 100% - at every position, all the time.”

Looking to qualify for post-season play for the first time since 2018 (following a ten year run of participating in playoff action), Ashton and company are not about to follow a pathway riddled with smoke and mirrors. Their keys to success are forged in common sense.

“We want to build a reputation as a real hard working team that is tough to bear,” said Ashton. “I think that the real key to success in this league is having 11 girls on the field who are all fighting and clawing and scratching for ninety minutes.”

While those instructions might seem somewhat nebulous to the average varsity athlete, the one-time member of the Canadian U17, U20 and U23 squads offered the following translation in terms of specifically what folks might expect to see from his team.

“Our whole program this year is based on trying to win the ball back as fast as we can and then get it into certain areas of the field quickly,” he said. “We don’t want to spend a whole lot of time chasing the ball, but we’re definitely designed for a more defensive set-up.”

Converting from a tough defending team to one which can then create some havoc offensively might prove the greatest hurdle for the 2022 Voyageurs. “It’s one thing to play that way when you don’t have the ball, but when you finally do get it, you can’t play that way anymore. You have to be a little bit creative; you have to have some skill.”

Blessed with four keepers still in camp, Ashton will turn to veteran Hunter Jones for the start in game one, running out a veteran back-line of Clare Dasek, Megan Short, Mykayla Forrest and Kaylee Spridgeon.

Though a pair of knee injuries will deprive the team of two key contributors in Océane La Via and recruit Jaelyn Riley, Ashton is hopeful that the likes of Caitlyn Kervin (North Bay) and Cassandra Armstrong and some talented midfielders can score just enough to make things interesting for Laurentian this year.

“There’s a chance (at playoffs) this year; that’s one of our big goals,” said Ashton. “We don’t want to be unrealistic with our season, but a realistic goal is to try and make the playoffs. And if you get in the playoffs, it’s anybody’s game.”

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"It’s everybody’s game” could have been an appropriate mantra for the second annual NyamaNyama Cup - 2022.

While organizer Patrick Pillah and friends may have originally conceived of the event as a celebration of the Afro-Sudbury soccer community last summer at this time, it’s clearly blossomed into something much more diverse.

“There were more than 20 nationalities represented,” said Pillah, who brought together four local entries for a fun-filled weekend that went way beyond the sport alone. “It’s a very diverse tournament. That’s the point of the whole thing: we wanted to create something where we could come together and laugh and have a good time and share our love of the sport in a positive space.”

The 27 year-old Nigerian native soon-to-be architecture grad and part-time businessman – did we mention he’s also a barber on the side – tapped into some existing groups to make it all happen, all while opening the doors wide for anyone who wanted to jump aboard the games that were far more about smiles than serious soccer.

“We started by working with the teams that we already know, some of the guys who play consistently,” he said. “There is another team that I play with; we train randomly every Sunday night. And then a largely Asian team with guys I went to school with, international students, guys who play pick-up soccer around Sudbury.”

“The fourth team was a collection of interested people, people who were not already with one of the three teams – just to make sure that everyone who wanted to participate could play.”

All of which created an environment which produced just the right kind of atmosphere as the whistle sounded on the final game. “At the end of the tournament, there were a lot of smiles, a lot of banter, a lot of phone numbers exchanged and contacts being made,” said Pillah. “I really wanted something that would represent the way that Sudbury looks today.”

Providing valuable assistance to Pillah and friends were Kyle Senra, a key organizer, as well as the financial support of Afro-Fest Sudbury and Pro-Stitch.

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A week or so earlier, another celebration of northern soccer would see the first leg of the Sudbury – North Bay Soccer Challenge, with local teams remaining unbeaten following their trek to the Gateway City.

In men’s 35 and over play, Bobby McKinty scored the only goal of the game, with Vincenzo Dagostino making it stand in a 1-0 win over North Bay. Rounding out the Sudbury roster were Chris Anselmo, Cody Cacciotti, Matt L’Italien, Andrew Porringa, Mike Asunmaa, Joel Cropp, Cale Smith, Derrick Hartley, David Denoble, Charlie Hasner, Sean Basso, Brad Smith, P.J. Rocca, Francois Nzo and Milton Lessis.

In the men’s open division, Sudbury and North Bay played to a 2-2 draw, with Varanpreet (Binny) Singh and Marcel Diro finding the back of the net for the local crew, whose lineup also featured Connor Vande Weghe, Divin Ngenzi, Samim Masoom, Ruben Seka, Espoir Esende, Sebastien Venne, Daro Perez, Ayoub Aasri, Kyle St Marseille, Varapreet (Vinny) Singh, Marco Armiento, Michael Marcantognini, Donaldson Ajilore and Stephane Fotsing.

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