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Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2018
Stretching the season for summer sports
by Randy Pascal

It’s Thanksgiving Monday and the start of the 2016-2017 NHL regular season is but three days away. As I deal with my first really nasty layer of windshield frost on the car this morning, the reality of the soon-to-arrive onslaught of winter sports is hard to ignore.

And yet there are those devoted to stretching the summer sports as late into the calendar year as possible who continue to fight the good fight. All of the club soccer outdoor campaigns are completed and in the books, though post-secondary soccer is still a month or so away from crowning provincial and national champions.

In Sudbury, there are options available for those who wish to pursue the “beautiful game”, or variations thereof, throughout the winter months. The unavailability of the former Sudbury Indoor Soccer Centre, at this time, might not be helping the situation, but it’s not about to ground to a halt the efforts of Brian Ashton and company with the Northern Soccer Academy.

Finding reasonable venues presents a challenge, though it is hardly the only one, as Ashton looks to grow a concept which has gained considerable popularity in other parts of the province, generally blessed with a much larger population base.

“We’re the only academy in the north that is recognized by the Ontario Soccer Association, but we have to be careful in smaller communities not to hurt the clubs by taking their better players,” said Ashton. “Saying that, there has to be more for the better players, and that’s what we’re trying to offer.”

“We’re trying to do it in co-operation with the clubs so that they don’t feel intimidated by us, so that they feel free to send players to us, players that they feel are their better players, to have them looked over at a higher level.”

“In return, we allow the players to also play with the club, but we want to take them to some more competitive tournaments,” Ashton added. “There’s enough going on already, in some of these communities, with people butting heads. I don’t think I need to add to that.”

“But the better players at the universities and colleges are players who have come through these channels. You can see the difference. If you get these kids training two to three times a week, which we plan on doing, instead of once a week, we’re going to see results – and already have.”

And as for the lack of an ideal off-season venue? “We’re going to be in gyms this year. We have to be,” admitted Ashton. “We were pro-active last year, knowing that the soccer centre wasn’t going to be around, so we booked school gyms to run our programs. It’s a patchwork job. We need a facility, there’s no doubt.”

The Northern Soccer Academy is hopeful to have perhaps as many as four teams from Northern Ontario accepted into the provincial academy league, with play beginning next April or May. Yet the soccer community is not alone in these types of ventures.

After years of watching local top end baseball talent travel south for the summer to participate against some of the very best in the province, Jean-Gilles Larocque and friends from The Baseball Academy have entered a pair of teams into the Elite Baseball League of Ontario, beginning next spring.

The 16U and 18U Northern Ontario formations will join up with groups that already include anywhere from sixteen to eighteen teams, covering a provincial span that runs from Windsor, right through London, Hamilton and the Niagara region, all across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and off to the nation’s capital in Ottawa.

And lest anybody be concerned that the young men and women who represent this area will be vastly overmatched, the proof is in the pudding. The Sudbury U15 crew took on the Central Ontario U14 Reds a few weeks back, sweeping a double-header at the Terry Fox Sports Complex by scores of 9-5 and 10-5.

“I honestly didn’t know exactly what to expect,” said Larocque. “We have thirteen kids on that team, and every single kid pitched. It was just about getting all of the kids at bats and opportunities. That’s how we’re going to develop kids.”

“In regards to the results, we made some key defensive plays, and we put the ball in play, really,” Larocque continued. Though there were contributions right across the roster, there were a few players who particularly caught the eye of the former NCAA catcher.

“Someone who surprised me, to be honest with you, was Sabrina Folz,” noted Larocque. “She came in with the bases loaded and we were up 9-5. On her second pitch, she gets a ball hit right at her, pretty hard. She throws to the catcher for the out, he throws to first for the double play, and two pitches later, she gets a ground ball to the shortstop for the out, basically just throwing strikes.”

Jacob Lariviere came through with a clutch hit, and Yanick Loiselle and Caleb Cain are among the kids that stepped up offensively.” The U15 team, which completes their fall schedule this coming weekend with a home and home set against the U15 Reds, also feature Anthony Signorile, Liam Socransky, Braeden Dube, Gavin Roy, Dylan Ancil, Justin Vaillancourt, Braedon Pakkala, Jordan Trottier, Tucker Belanger and Carter Benson on their roster.

Meanwhile, the U18 team returned home in the early morning hours on Monday, having travelled State-side and faced West Virginia State and West Virginia Tech over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

Their greeting home may well have included an early winter-like scene, but it’s not about to stop the avid baseball or soccer athletes from enjoying their passion, twelve months of the year.

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