"Our goal, heading into this year, was not to get relegated," noted GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) U16 Impact Girls co-coach Chris Binks a few weeks back.
Given a final record of 8-4-4 (28 pts), a mark that will slide them in no worse than sixth place in the 17-team CSL (Central Soccer League) loop, some might surmise that the end of year target was not nearly aggressive enough.
But based on a decade-long history of Sudbury youth soccer struggles in both the previous CGSL (Central Girls Soccer League) and the CSL ranks, on the boys side, it certainly did not seem that way back in April and May.
Not too mention the fact that the Impact was finally making the jump from a tournament team to solid league play at an age when the vast majority of their competitors have at least two to three years of experience, at this level, already behind them.
"Our girls had never played 90 minute games, the girls have never played the level of competition the CSL has to offer, and we're basically the only team that is required to play back to back games on weekends," said Binks.
"The girls have far exceeded our expectations."
Where interest often wanes at this age bracket, with personal and life obligations so often cutting into the time the girls can allocate to the favourite summer sport, the Impact crew clearly bucked the trend.
"We could not have been more impressed with their commitment level," said Binks. "We have 18 girls on our roster and most of the times, we had the full 18 out at practice (including a pair that were driving in from North Bay). It was rare that we would have less than 14 at practice, all year."
"It allowed us to work on the technical side of things - ball work, finishing, defending, attacking - but it also allowed us to work on the tactics with the team," Binks continued. "That's been the biggest introduction for this team."
"We tend to work from the back line forward, always starting with the back four defending. How do we pressure cover, how do we do the things that need to be done in terms of keeping the ball out of our net? Then we start working towards how to be creative as an offensive team."
Turns out the CSL was the ideal setting for the Impact, supplying just the right amount of on the field pushback to create an environment where growth and development was both possible and probable.
The final four games of the 2019 season, contested earlier this month, spoke volumes to the issue of the Impact fitting in with their CSL counterparts.
Their home schedule concluded on September 7th and 8th, when the Impact doubled West Toronto (4-2) (Prezzley Hutchison-2, Grace Cranston, Myla Weiman) before falling to Peterborough City by a final score of 4-1 the next day (Nora Dzuirban).
"We figured West Toronto was a do-able game," said Binks. "Our girls were tactically sound. The formations that we had worked on were implemented and the girls executed the game plan well."
Facing a talented, rested Peterborough side on Sunday, the GSSC reps found themselves trailing 4-0 at the half. "That's very uncharacteristic of our team, typically we're a difficult team to score on," noted Binks.
"Peterborough did a very good job of moving the ball side to side, playing out of the back, and they exposed us a little bit in getting us out of position. Right away, they were in on a couple of breakaways."
"But the girls came out and played an absolute gem of a second half," he added. "We were on balls quicker. Decision-wise, we made the right choices, defensively. They did everything we asked them to do."
Heading south one last time, the Impact secured a 3-3 draw with the Etobicoke Energy a week later, as Allie Weiler, Chelsea Leduc and Grace Cranston struck balls just right to handle the Sudbury attack, closing out their campaign with a 3-1 loss to the North York Cosmos (Grace Cranston).
Just two weeks later, anticipation has started to build in advance of the summer of 2020.
"The plan for next year is to try and get the girls some exposure to various post-secondary programs through exhibition games, guest coach training sessions, or showcase tournaments," stated Binks.
The 2019 edition of the GSSC Impact U16 girls team featured Alena Smania, Ann-Sophie Greer-Borisko, Allie Weiler, Arijana Tuttle, Chelsea Leduc, Emily Binks, Emma Coutu, Grace Cranston, Jayda Cacciotti, Kyra Mallory, Ellie Laberge, Mackenzie Roberts, Mia Binks, Michela Bussolaro, Myla Weiman, Nora Dzuirban, Prezzley Hutchison and Tessa Favero.