It would take six games, but first year Laurentian Voyageurs women's soccer coach Brian Ashton can finally celebrate the inaugural victory of his OUA coaching career.
Putting the challenge of a well documented very late start behind them, Ashton and his team have now rebounded from a two-loss opening weekend, beaten only once in their last four games, and that, a 3-1 loss to the #1 ranked team in the country, the Ottawa Gees Gees.
The positive trend was maintained at home on Sunday as the Voyageurs upended the Nipissing Lakers by a final score of 3-1, with Mia De Gasperis and Chantae Robinson finding the mark less than a minute apart, midway through the opening half, and Julia Pulente drilling the final nail in the coffin with a strike in the 88th minute.
The offensive outburst, which equalled the L.U. goal total from the first five games combined, was more than enough to offset a reply from Madison Logan of Nipissing in the 76th minute.
"We had a tough start to the season," acknowledged Ashton, whose introduction to the post-secondary coaching ranks would see his team saddled with back to back defeats against both Nipissing (1-0) and the Trent Excalibur (2-0).
"I sort of put those first those games behind us. This was the first time in the history of Laurentian women's soccer that we did not have a pre-season schedule. We were still trying different players at different positions, and the girls didn't play well against Trent."
Things were not looking a whole lot better when goals from Melanie Hoekstra and Sarah Foster vaulted the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks to a 2-0 half-time lead, in Sudbury, to begin week two of the schedule.
But counters from Amanda Cuthbert (50th minute) and Kaylee Spridgeon (89th minute) provided a rallying cry for the blue and gold, one that appears to have been carried forward nicely since then.
"The girls showed some character in that second half," said Ashton. "From that point on, it seems that we've found a system and players have bought into it, especially the five fourth year players that we kept."
"It's hard for them," added Ashton. "They were the girls that really got stuck in the middle here, with the coaching change and everything. They were used to one way and all of a sudden, it's their last year and it's different."
The Voyageurs will still have to put their collective noses to the grindstone in order to try and beat out Ontario Tech and Trent (both at 2-4-1 = 7 points) and Carleton (1-4-2 = 5 pts) for the sixth and final playoff spot, but at least they are now in striking distance (1-3-2 = 5 pts).
"The main focus has been on keeping possession," said Ashton. "We tried to do that and we would get to a certain point and then we couldn't go any further, we couldn't get into the attacking zone, so we worked on a few things."
"Our defence is giving us a chance to win, but to win, you have to put the ball in the net. We've really focused on our play in wide areas, getting crosses to the net, getting the ball behind their back line. We don't like to sit back, that's not the way that we play."
Still, there is plenty of work to be done. "I want them to play a certain way and we didn't really do it today, but I can forgive them because we got the result, and that's really what matters at this level," said Ashton.
The Laurentian men also continued to show well, even if points did not come their way following a 1-0 loss, on the road, to the University of Toronto Blues on Friday night.
A first half tally from Atchu Sivananthan would stand as the game's only goal as Toronto (5-0-2 = 17) remains tied with Ryerson in second place in the OUA East Division, while Laurentian (1-4-1 = 4) sits even with the Queen's Gaels (1-5-1 = 4) in sixth place.
Coach Carlo Castrechino and the men now tackle a critical weekend on the road, battling both Queen's and the RMC (Royal Military College) Paladins (0-4-2 = 2) in Kingston this coming Saturday and Sunday afternoons, before hosting Toronto and Ryerson on the weekend of October 5th and 6th.