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Tuesday, Jun. 19, 2018
Cambrian ladies target the Thunder
by Randy Pascal

The New Sudbury campus of Cambrian College has seen its fair share of lopsided scoreboards for OCAA encounters in recent years. More often than not, it’s been the athletes representing the relatively undersized (speaking in terms of student population) Northern Ontario campus that have been on the wrong end of these mismatches.

So everyone will just have to breathe deep, and forgive the Golden Shield women’s soccer team for not feeling completely terrible about laying a 22-0 lambasting on the girls from Fleming and Loyalist on the weekend.

Sorry folks – been on the opposite side of this fence. Have done that. Have the “thanks for coming out” t-shirt to show for it. Besides, it’s not the likes of these first two visitors to Sudbury that coach Giuseppe Politi and company are firmly fixated on this.

That target, at least this week, is set, first and foremost, on the powerhouse Algonquin Thunder, provincial champions in two of the past three years, with a silver medal to their credit in between. The Ottawa-based juggernaut make their one and only visit of the year, this coming Saturday, for a noon matchup.

For the record, Algonquin outscored their opponents 15-0 over the weekend, and their second outing was opposite a very respectable side representing the Durham Lords. The excitement with which the Cambrian girls are approaching this upcoming showdown is palpable. Facing the Thunder in the OCAA semi-final last fall, the Shield squandered a 2-0 lead with under ten minutes to play, eventually dropping a 4-2 decision in extra time.

This is one highly motivated local crew taking to the field in 2016. “I definitely feel like this is a much stronger team than last year,” noted sophomore defender Jenelle St Jean, a graduate of Collège Notre Dame. “Last year, we had a lot of rookies, and kind of knew what we were doing. But this year, we have more experience, and we have players from L.U. who came over.”

In fact, Politi has never fielded a roster that can match the depth of the current edition of the team. The attack is absolutely prolific, with strikers Tiffany Johnson and Sarah Cholewinsky being fed by local product and one-time provincial talent Morgan Melnek.

Directly behind the trio is a troika of midfielders that are apt to jump quickly into the attack. Clarissa McArthur scored six goals from her slot as an outside left midfielder, while the right side features the relentness tenacity of Courtney Ceccarelli, who rested a sore ankle on opening weekend.

No matter. With Laurentian transfer Alex Ross steadying the central midfield, and veteran Dana Isaia more than capable of spelling all three, as well as a few others on the pitch, the Cambrian girls seldom take their foot off the gas.

“There’s a lot of strong players, and we all have a really nice bond,” noted McArthur, who grew up playing soccer in Owen Sound, the largest regional center in proximity to her hometown of Durham (population = 2,823). “I see a lot of potential in this team. I think we can do some pretty great things.”

“Our top line and our midfield, we’re really strong,” added St Jean. “We can definitely send those balls in, our forwards are really, really fast. We should be a lot more competitive against Algonquin.”

“We have some “pacey” forwards up there,” McArthur agreed. “Tiff and Sara have speed to burn. We have a strong back four, and the new formation seems to be working. We’re pushing it up, creating a lot of chances.”

In fact, as most in soccer will agree, it’s difficult to mount any kind of attack without a solid defensive foundation in place. Though she missed the first two games due to a prior commitment, 2014 OCAA all-star Ashley Melnek resumes her patrol at centerback, joined by Tamara Johnson at her side.

The outside fullbacks include Marissa Falvo and Kaitlin Houben, with the likes of Jenelle St Jean and newcomer Chelsie Sargeant more than capable of providing valuable minutes in relief, or stepping in when injuries are inevitably encountered.

If there was any doubt that long-time competitive keeper Megan Coutu could make the jump to the OCAA ranks, they were answered last year, as the CND graduate was rock solid in helping her team to a top four finish provincially.

All of which has set the stage for what looks to be a memorable campaign, with Politi pushing the young ladies to compete with their absolute best. “I think he wants us to believe what he sees in us,” said McArthur. “He sees a strong team, and he’s trying to show us that.”

“The bar is high for us right now, and we’re kind of working out way up there, to reach the potential that he sees.” And though that push from the coach can often be quite vociferous, the players fully understand the end goal.

“We’re used to it, we don’t take it personally, we know that he’s just trying to help us get better,” said St Jean. “You have to learn from it. It’s all about focus – you want it, you believe it, you have to go get it.”

It’s the stuff that back of t-shirts are made of. And, if St Jean, McArthur and the rest of the Shield have their way, the stuff that champions are made of.

News and Notes: The rewards for their dominating performance in Week 1 came swiftly for the Golden Shield. The team has vaulted into the national rankings for the first time ever, sliding into the #6 slot, #2 in Ontario, behind only Algonquin.

And for the second consecutive year, Tiffany Johnson was named "OCAA Female Soccer Athlete of the Week" right out of the gate. The 10-goal weekend performance allowed the graduate of Bishop Carter Catholic Secondary School to move all the way up to second place in OCAA all-time scoring, bumping her total up to 44.

The Cambrian men also garnered some attention, earning the #4 ranking in the OCAA following a 1-1 draw with Fleming, on the heels of a top four finish at provincials last year.

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