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Cambrian soccer prepares for playoff showdowns

Given that 16 of 18 OCAA soccer teams will qualify for the playoffs this year (16 of 19 on the women's side), perhaps it is only fair that the Cambrian Golden Shield should fully expect to find themselves with an extra game or more at the end of regular season play this month.

That said, there have been some very encouraging moments of success from both squads that give rise to reason for optimism, either this post-season or beyond.

With a win over the 0-8-1 Sault Cougars Saturday afternoon at home - a win which the lads should easily secure - coach Jason Garforth and company will finish the 2023 campaign with a mark of 3-6-1, a record that might allow them to overtake the Centennial Colts for sixth place in the East.

More encouraging is the fact that this brings the Shield men to within striking distance of Durham Lords and Algonquin Wolves and the like, with really only one "ugly" loss on their books - an 8-0 setback at the hands of the undefeated George Brown Huskies last weekend in a contest that, by all accounts, Cambrian was fully managing their culmulative yellow card situation.

The highlight, to date, was a two week stretch at the end of September where the locals recorded a key 2-2 road tie with the Seneca Sting, edged Centennial 2-1 the next day in Scarborough, thumped the Fleming Knights 8-0 the following weekend at home before dropping a tight 2-0 decision to Durham in Sudbury.

The first half of that quartet of games also saw Cambrian rookie Josh Vivero recognized as the OCAA Player of the Week in the soccer grouping, an honour that he attributed as much to his teammates as to the skill-set that allowed the Toronto native to score once in the tie with the Sting (Josiah Stone got the other) and then netting the game-winning goal opposite the Colts (Ebou Joof put Cambrian on the board).

"I have teammates who were able to get me the ball in a positive position," said Vivero, who leads his team with five goals this fall. "It helps when you have a team that is able to feed you through balls or to connect passes."

In fact, that possession game is likely the one area where Vivero and his mates noted the greatest step forward after opening the season at 0-4.

"At the beginning of the season, we didn't have a great start," he said. "Now, we're beginning to pick up our speed, get our groove in and find our way. It's more or less the same basics as always. You're still looking for the little pockets, the little through balls and then over the top some time - and occasionally, you take on your defender one v one."

At 5-3-1 and also facing the woeful Cougars (0-9-0) on Saturday, the Cambrian women are primed to host a playoff game next week, likely Wednesday evening against a still to be determined opponent.

A very nice opening weekend on the road and a huge 3-2 triumph last weekend against George Brown in Toronto were just some of the highlights from the past two months, a season which has seen anything but calm waters for the team.

"I think the it (the game against George Brown) was a microcosm of our season," suggested head coach Evan Phillips. "There were a lot of ups and downs - but the way that the girls have respondedto things that have gone against them is kind of the theme for this year."

Grace Cranston scored twice for the winners, giving her twelve strikes this year and trailing only Sage Thomas-Roberts (Durham) and Shanice Alfred (Seneca), both with 16, in the race for leading scorer in the OCAA.

Nora Dzuirban added the remaining goal as Cambrian improved to 5-3-1 with their sights set on fourth place once they battle the Sault.

"We have bounced back from injuries, unlucky breaks, beautfiul goals that the other teams have scored - but we always come back," said Phillips.

As is typically the case when injuries factor in, unexpected performances from the next woman up is needed in order for the team to move forward - and the Golden Shield ladies were certainly no different.

"Jenna Lowe has been one of our biggest surprises," said Phillips, commending the North Bay native blessed with plenty of soccer versatility. "We were sure she was going to fit in somewhere, but we weren't sure where."

"We tried mixing and matching and she's been kind of a Swiss army knife as a result, playing a number of positions and doing them extremely well."

No surprise that with veteran Cassidy Burton hobbled for some of the fall that the back-line was the one critical area where Cambrian needed some extra help.

"Gillian Spraggett (rookie from Rockwood - between Guelph and Georgetown) wasn't expected to be a big part of the roster this year but she's been as solid as anyone could have hoped for," Phillips added.

"She's been able to play a few different positions, she creates a lot and she's an amazing one v one defender."

Once both Cambrian games are in the books on Saturday and the remainder of OCAA weekend play is done, the teams will confirm their playoff opponents and then ramp up quickly in hopes of some post-season success.

Greater Sudbury Soccer Club