Weekly Column now appears in Northern Life, every Thursday
It may not be quite the equivalent of the constant chatter in the weeks leading into the hockey season, but fair to say there’s a buzz in the air as the local competitive soccer season draws near.
With teams and individuals taking on new challenges, on-going player movement and the backdrop of the potential amalgamation of rep soccer in Sudbury, there is always a glut of interesting story lines to be followed.
While this short column is far from presenting an all-inclusive update, consider it more of a condensed snapshot of some of the items that have caught our attention. A total of three girls teams from the area will make the jump to the ranks of the Central Girls Soccer League (CGSL) this year, each with their own unique route that they have ventured to date.
For coach Kevin Roach and the Panhellenic U-16 Storm ladies, the 2010 campaign represents their second kick at the cat. In 2007, the group were accepted into the fold at the U13 level, the most difficult jump to make given the specific framework of top end soccer in Ontario.
The Ontario Youth Soccer League (OYSL) represents the pinnacle of competitive youth soccer in the Province, but the league commences play beginning with the U-14 level. Meanwhile, the CGSL (and its male counterpart, the CSL) form divisions beginning at the U-12 age grouping.
Northern Ontario teams entering league play in Southern Ontario at U-13 find themselves facing the best of the best in the Province, an extremely challenging standard given the acknowledged fact that this area must play catch-up in terms of skill development at the grass roots level to many more soccer-crazed districts in Ontario.
Not surprisingly, the Storm found themselves relegated out of CGSL play in 2007, but far more optimistic of remaining more than competitive within the nine team league they now must face.
The team will feature of solid core of defending talent as Provincial candidate Jenna Hellstrom teams with sweeper Gabby Conrad and centre defender Mariah Clarke to form an imposing final wall for opposing strikers.
This area will be critical as keeper Alex Ross, showing plenty of early potential, remains limited in terms of experience at this level. The team’s long-time starting goaltender, Emilie Bouchard, has decided to focus heavily on her sprint kayak training, though she has signed with the Storm and will help out whenever possible.
Up front, striker Tiana Faubert will be asked to carry the load, with the team likely to get an early season report card of just how competitive they might be, travelling to the Oshawa Kicks Frank Sobil Spring Classic this coming weekend.
Accepting the toughest challenge at the local level are the Sudbury U-13 Canadians girls, as coach Ted Leck and company advance by virtue of their NRSL (North Regional Soccer League) championship crown claimed last August.
With the talent pool in this age group split between three very solid programs, Leck is keenly aware of the road that lies ahead, one that will undoubtedly involve a few bumps and potholes along the way.
As for the Greater Sudbury United U-14 ladies, chances are that they’re pleased just to be here. After dropping a 3-2 decision in their September Challenge match with Whitby, it appeared that the CGSL dreams would be put on the backburner for one more year.
But an Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) decision to amend the format for the do or die game to better reflect the teams moving to the OYSL and CGSL within the U-14 age bracket gave way to an appeal from United coach Andy Charsley, one which was eventually accepted by league officials.
Ironically, despite the fact they needed a little boardroom help to advance, this team could well prove to be the most competitive of the three, bringing together the bulk of the top 1996 born girls in the region.
Former Valley East keeper Renée Bigras returns to the fold, while Canadians alumnus Mackenzie Bell will hopefully add some scoring punch before a family move takes her away to Australia midway through the season.
Courtney Smith will anchor the midfield, with the team getting their first real taste of 2010 provincial competition this coming weekend, facing South Simcoe United for a two game friendly set south of Barrie.
In other local soccer news, the top young male prospect in the area appears set to head south for the summer. Michael Marcantognini has committed to joining up with the Mississauga U-14 Falcons program, playing within the OYSL this year.
Another prospective Provincial program talent, Marcantognini is making the right decision, according to someone who has been there before. “He has a real legitimate chance of staying within the Provincial program if he plays regularly at that level”, noted former soccer pro Brian Ashton.
Ironically, it was the Mississauga Falcons program that also provided Ashton with his first taste of elite Provincial competition, a few years back. “It’s almost like he’s travelling down the same path I did.”
Ashton is hopeful that local talents Jenna Hellstrom and Veronica Mazzella might continue to make their mark on a larger stage, while speedy Canadians striker Cloe Lacasse is sure to attract a great deal of interest from NCAA scouts over the next year or two.
And for every challenge within the Sudbury soccer community, there remains a ray of hope. Competing at the OSA Regional Spring identification tournament recently, Isaac Oliveira became not only the youngest player ever to suit up with a Region 6 Northern Ontario squad, but also the youngest to score a goal at the event, all while facing players mostly two years older.