Soon to be Sudbury Sports Hall of Famer and local coach Brian Ashton has certainly developed a comfort level with a core group of local talent, one which he has nurtured for the past five to six years, most recently through the U18 ranks for a handful of summers.
The 2019 calendar year, however, signals a time for a change.
“It's a bit different, in the fact that it's U21,” said Ashton, practicing earlier this week at the Delki Dozzi Sports Complex. “We've only played in our own age division. We wanted to bring up our U18 boys team, but we thought that we wouldn't mind adding maybe another five or six older players to help them. We didn't feel that our boys were ready to play in a U21 men's division, without a little help.”
It is something of a foreign landscape for the owner/operator of the Northern Soccer Academy, acknowledging the need to expand his roster, just a touch, at this age. “This is the first time we've run with 22 (players), but I tell you, I understand already why in this division, teams play with 22. If we hadn't had 22, we would have been short.”
The locals have sandwiched a 3-1 win over International FC between losses to the KNSC Lions (2-1) and Collingwood United (3-2), not a bad start for a team that can face some justifiable early challenges. “The way the Academy works in the north, we have players practicing in three different districts,” noted Ashton.
“They come together to play. We miss that little bit of chemistry in set plays and stuff, that we don't get to work together as a group.” Woodstock native Ryan Jovanovich is a non-northern addition to the team, staying in Sudbury for the summer after completing both his first year of studies at Laurentian University, and his first year of play with the Voyageurs, cracking the roster last fall as a walk on.
“I really prepared myself during the summer, so I was confident going in,” recalled Jovanovich, a major in Concurrent Education and Sports Psychology at L.U. “They want to see you work really hard on the pitch, showing some fitness. It's not just technical.”
Still, after lining up at the top of the formation for his team for most of his younger years, Jovanovich is pleased with the adjustment he has made with a move to a center mid position, one that he feels plays to his strengths. “If you're out wide, you need to be a lot quicker, but you have more time on the ball,” he said.
“Being on the inside, you have to be a lot more vocal and be ready to move the ball around. It's about just being aware at all times.”
By contrast, goaltender Nolan Berthelette is younger, but also a veteran of the team, at 16 years of age. He is also trying to carve himself a post-secondary pathway despite giving up a few inches in height to many of the other contenders for these spots on the team. “Honestly, you just have to think bigger than you actually are,” noted the grade 11 student at Lockerby Composite.
“On corner kicks, for instance, there are a lot more guys that are over the top of me, being a smaller goalkeeper. You have to be a lot more on your toes, really focusing on quicker movement of the feet.”
Despite all of this, Berthelette is thankful for the chance to improve his game against tougher competition this summer. “The skill level is a big difference, even though it's only a few years from U18 to U21,” he said. “What's nice for me is in being younger and playing at this level now, when I get to that age, I'll already know what it's like.”
Joining Berthelette and Jovanovich on the U21 roster this summer are Kiel Cress, Jacob Socransky, Andrew Prince, Thomas Webb, Cameron Boland, Saurodeep Majundar, Isaac Oliveira, Lucas Oliveira, Luke May, Luca Nardi, Dean Edwards, Jake May, Tyler Dupont, Sebastien Bouchard, Domynik Huot, Adam Tear, Kristian Shuttleworth, Brandon Moxam, Jacxsen Cress and Neil Kovacs.
Only just starting their competitive pathway, the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) Impact U12 girls opened their season with a 5-3 win over North Bay, Thursday evening, with Misaki Diavolitsis (2), Natalia Begic, Kynlee Cresswell and Maia Hammell handling the scoring for the winners.
“It's called a developmental competitive league, but I think this is the first time that GSSC has had a team in this division in the Huronia League,” said Sudbury coach Max Massimiliano. “The biggest thing for us is to get them ready to play competitive teams that may have been training together all year long, with indoor facilities, and playing outside longer.”
“Our girls have been in a gym for a while now, so it's making them aware of the space and how much field there is, as opposed to a small gym.”
Combining forces with the Sudbury goal scorers on the Impact sidelines were Chloe Leduc, Adrielle Charette, Mya Massimiliano, Hailey Ayre, Ava Massimiliano, Lilah Selby, Gabriella Massimiliano, Kaylee Vaillancourt and Aria Petroski.
Making their inaugural appearance in the Central Soccer League last weekend, the coaches Chris and Matt Binks and the GSSC Impact U16 girls were really just hoping to find their bearings, acclimatizing to a brand new set of opponents.
Apparently, all signs are pointing in a positive direction for the locals. Buoyed by back to back shutouts from keeper Michela Bussolaro, the Sudbury girls walked away with four points from their southern sojourn, playing to a scoreless draw Saturday versus the Whitby Iroquois, and then blasting Pickering S.C. 6-0 the very next day.
Grace Cranston powered the attack for the northern reps with a two goal effort, with solo strikes coming courtesy of Allie Weiler, Prezzley Hutchison, Myla Weiman and Chelsea Leduc.
"It was nice to see the girls rewarded for their work," Chris Binks stated. "After struggling to score on Saturday, it was a welcome site to see established veterans and newcomers alike finding their scoring touch."
"As a group, we will try to build on these early results as we navigate the league during what promises to be a fun summer." The team is back in action, at home this weekend, welcoming Darlington S.C. to Sudbury for a Sunday afternoon encounter at the James Jerome Sports Complex at 2:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, a three-goal performance from Sydney Coe and a clean slate from keeper Cadyn Goulais helped to lift the GSSC Impact U14 girls to a 3-0 win over the Barrie Spirit U14 girls - White, as the team improved to 2-0 on the season.
They are also returning to the pitch on Sunday, facing Collingwood United, also at the James Jerome Complex, with a 5:00 p.m. start time.