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U-21 ladies win a pair at home - Panhellenic Update

In an effort to provide a more consistent approach to offering coverage for the wide variety of sports that are highlighted on SudburySports.com, we've decided to include a new feature. Weekly and bi-weekly divisional or league updates will offer a wide array of statistical tidbits, roster updates, tournament results for participating teams. The Panhellenic Soccer Club will be featured every Wednesday - next update is June 3rd

Panhellenic U-21 Ladies

A very good start for the Panhellenic U-21 ladies as head coach Giuseppe Politi and company chalk up a pair of wins at home over the Pickering Power to kickoff the 2009 OWSL Provincial U21 Central division season. Sudbury downed the Power 3-1 on Saturday and 1-0 on Sunday, with both contests staged at the Lockerby Composite field.

A somewhat shaky start in their opener as Pickering pressured the Pan side through the opening ten to fifteen minutes, capitalizing on some miscommunication between keeper Jaimee Lafraniere and her defenders to score their only goal of the weekend at the 16 minute mark. The home side wasted little time drawing even as the midfield tandem of Veronica Mazzella and Dayna Corelli, both of whom enjoyed strong outings in helping Sudbury control the inside of the pitch, teamed up on a pretty goal for the equalizer some four minutes later.

Mazzella made a nifty move to sidestep one defender and drawing the keeper to her, slipped a well-placed pass to Corelli who made no mistake in tight. The score remained tied at one heading to half-time as Panhellenic gradually began to take control of the momentum of the game. It paid dividends in the 75th minute as Stacey Watson delivered a cross from about 30 yards out that Emily Rogers agrressively charged, getting a piece with a header that eluded the Pickering netminder.

Watson would add a little insurance in the game's dying minutes, splitting the Power defensive core and sliding through the game's final marker as Sudbury prevailed 3-1. A much better start for the Panhellenic side on Sunday, controlling much of the play in the opening half despite the fact that decent scoring chances were kept to a minimum on both sides.

Pickering came out stronger to open the second but the Panhellenic defensive unit, anchored by the trio of Ellen House, Natasia San Cartier and Jessica O'Bumsawin and ably backstopped by goaltender Stacy Carter held the fort as the contest remained scoreless. Sparkplug Veronica Mazzella once again provided the jump to the Pan offense, setting up the game's only goal with yet another one on one manouevre, this time coming off the right side.

Mazzella worked her way in deep and drilled a ball back towards the middle that deflected off a Power defender and rolled close to the goal line where Emily Rogers found the back at the net midway through the second half. With the visitors pressing for the game-tying goal, Sudbury enjoyed two or three glorious chances to widen the advantage to no avail as Rogers undoubtedly would have liked another shot at a few opportunities that came her way.

Although Panhellenic allowed Pickering a little more breathing room than coach Politi would have preferred, the effort remained solid enough for a second straight victory as Carter chalks up the shutout in a 1-0 triumph. "We got six points - we couldn't ask for anything more in terms of the actual results", said Politi."I think Saturday we were a bit better in terms of our positioning, but we grinded it out on Sunday. A sign of good teams is winning no matter the state of the game." While the bulk of the Panhellenic roster have, from time to time, been under the stewardship of Politi in years gone by, there are a small handful of players being exposed to the very demanding coach for the very first time. And the opposite holds true as well, as the former Laurentian Voyageur had the chance to see newcomers to Panhellenic in game action for the very first time.

"We picked up Sam Innocente, a former provincial player...Kristen Beange is an excellent midfielder - it's a pleasure to coach her as well. Brittany Michaud came over as well as goaltender Jaimee Lafraniere, someone who is committed and willing to train", noted Politi. With Vaughan having backed out of league play, Sudbury Panhellenic will not see action again until Saturday, June 7th when they welcome the Markham Lightning to the James Jerome Complex.

In the meantime, Politi will look to address a couple of challenges. "A little bit of finishing practice because we had a lot of chances today - we need to be a little bit more lethal on finishing", outlined Politi. "Also, continuous system play - defensive pressing, which we're trying to work on, and positioning. And I think a little bit of our fitness got exposed with the two games back to back."

While this weekend marked the start of the regular season for the Panhellenic ladies, we had the opportunity to sit down with coach Politi, who also doubles as the club head coach for the Panhellenic Soccer Club a few weeks back to discuss the upcoming campaign.

Pre-Season Preview with Giuseppe Politi

With a year under their belts to gain their collective bearings, Giuseppe Politi is hopeful that the Panhellenic U-21 ladies continue to make strides forward as they prepare for their third season of OWSL (Ontario Women's Soccer League) play. Mind you, some of that may come by virtue of increased competition, according to the coach who guided some of this crew through three seasons of intense OYSL (Ontario Youth Soccer League) action through their early teenage years.

"There's a lot of people graduating from the OYSL as the OWSL has picked up its reputation and credibility", explains Politi. "So there are people coming straight out of the U18 OYSL straight into the U21 OWSL this year." With a mix of very strong high-school players combined with a small handful from the post-secondary ranks, last year's Panhellenic squad sat safely in the middle of the pack in league play but really shone in Ontario Cup playdowns, advancing all the way to the Cup final before being eliminated courtesy of a golden goal.

The team has endured some turnover, most notably the absence of midfielder Renee Jacques, who opted to remain in Ottawa for the summer in preparation of her third season of OUA soccer with the Ottawa Gee Gees come September. As noted above, the losses are offset by the influx of a quartet of young talent along with the re-appearance of Alex Kennedy, a mainstay on Politi's OYSL teams.

On to an assessment of the 2008 campaign from a man who has seldom been accused of setting the goals too low. "I think in some things, we actually went past our expectations...but in terms of league play, we fell a little bit below our expectation", says Politi quite candidly. "But to be finalist in the Ontario Cup and to bring the number one team in the province all the way to extra time was an accomplishment in itself."

While many local soccer teams find it increasingly difficult, over time, keeping players and motivating them to play at the level needed to remain competitive, Politi foresees no major issue for his particular grouping. "We're big proponents of university soccer. We have some people that are currently playing university and the ones still in high-school are looking to play university", states Politi.

"I will help them to do whatever they need to do to get to that level, because that's what we profess within our club, within our team." Of course, with players being brought together, many of whom have played for a variety of different coaches over the years, working everyone towards a common goal can be quite the challenge in and of itself.

In a sense, Politi saw this as his first priority just weeks into training camp. "The first thing is to get the new players sort of intertwined into the system that we play here. We're going to have to make some adjustments, not necessarily in terms of formations, but moreso who is doing what", suggests the graduate of St Charles College who hopes to soon crack the ranks of working teachers.

Politi believes that with the OWSL incorporating a relegation system, it will be critical to try and develop some early success, especially within the youth that he possesses on his roster. "It's important to keep the younger players here for the long term", he says. As for his own development within the coaching ranks, Politi is quick to point out that each and every day provides a learning experience.

Working with a variety of soccer coaches and challenging himself by teaching coaching seminars for the OSA (ontario Soccer Association) provides ample opportunity for self-reflection and betterment. "It's just a maturity process - I've called down a little bit, per se, in games....but still I have extremely high standards."

While Politi earned his playing time as a prolific scorer in his youth and beyond, the lineup he has at his disposal brings together a much different flavour. "We have a lot of people who are defense-oriented, so we're going to have to be able to move around", he says. "The areas where I know I'm going to have to focus in are flexibility within these players type roles - being able to adjust a midfielder to maybe play striker, or to adjust a defender to maybe play midfield."

With mixed results in league and Ontario Cup play one year ago, Politi pulls no punches about where the focus remains for 2009. "Certainly, the number one priority is to have a good finish within the league, because the league dictates what this team is going to do in the future. You want to be in the top division of the top tier - which is the Provincial Central (their current league)."

Panhellenic Lightning - U16 Girls

Cold conditions and fierce winds did little to detract from the competitiveness of the Panhellenic Lightning as coach Joe Persi and company ventured off south for their first tournament action of the year. The local U-16 girls posted a record of 2-2 and were eliminated in quarter-final play at the West Niagara Invitational earlier this month.

The sixteen team U-16 division was comprised of four groups of four, with Sudbury opening round robin play on a losing note, falling 2-1 to the Lake Simcoe Hurricanes as Michelle Jacques accounted for the only Panhellenic goal. The local ladies rebounded with an impressive 5-0 win in game two as Kaitlyn Matson picked up the shutout over the West Lincoln Storm.

Nathalie St Laurent and Alex Eaton paced the attack with two goals each, with Tessa McDougall adding a solo marker. The team then advanced out of their pool courtesy of a 2-1 win over Cambridge as Erin Jones handled all of the scoring for the Lightning. Finishing second in Group "D", Panhellenic faced the first place (Group "C") Woodbridge Strikers, giving them all they could handle in a tough 1-0 loss.

Pleased with the overall performance of his troops, coach Persi was especially satisfied with some fine individual efforts as well as the two player attacking combinations worked nicely by strikers Karen Dubreuil and Brittany Byers. The 2009 Panhellenic Lightning roster includes: Brittany Byers, Haley chisholm, Karen Dubreuil, Alex Eaton, Gen Eaton, Michelle Jacques, Erin Jones, Kea Koutsoukis, Kaitlyn Matson, Tessa McDougall, Emma Persi, Teghan Persi, Natalie St Laurent and Katie Wismer.

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