Coach Gallo happy with revamped roster
by Randy Pascal
Seldom has Laurentian Voyageurs' women's soccer coach Rob Gallo sounded so positive while faced with the prospect of replacing seven
That is the payoff to the kind of depth that the 19-year veteran of the OUA circuit has built in recent years, combined with yet another solid recruiting
class. The fact is that while the lineup that opens against the Ryerson Rams on August 26th will feature several new faces, only one is likely to
be a first year student at L.U.
With ten rookies included in a roster of 27 young women, Gallo still maintains that a tenth straight trip to the post-season is achievable. The Voyageurs
were fourth in the East in 2016, posting a record of 9-6-1 and earning their first playoff win in six years (1-0 over Carleton) before being eliminated by
a red-hot UOIT Ridgebacks contingent.
The exodus of experienced talent begins right on the back line, with the graduation of keeper Dina Mandolesi, though third year goalie Caitlin
McNamara, cleared from a recent concussion just this past week, did split the 16 regular season games last year right down the middle with the Sault
Ste Marie native.
Battling for playing time behind McNamara will be local product Josée Scott, entering her second year with the team, as well as rookie recruit
Heather McGregor. With both McNamara and McGregor out of action at various points in August, Gallo is thankful for the ability to run at least three
deep in net.
"I thought Josée stepped up nicely in training camp," he said. "We'll travel with three keepers this year." An overhaul is evident, as well, in the
defence corps, with only 2014 second team all-star Allison Pilon returning to anchor the middle.
The upbeat feeling about those who are likely to assume starting roles commences with this group. "Rachel Sheppard (2nd year) learned under the
older ones, played a little bit here and there, but you will see something special back there with her," said Gallo.
The outside fullback flanks are manned by junior Victoria Galluzzo and incoming freshman Shantae Johnson, an ultra athletic recruit with
a background in hockey and rugby as well.
A little thin on the back end, the blue and gold look will look to insert four year veteran Michelle Walton as well as converted forward
Lindsay Hummelbrunner to spell the starters from time to time.
Gallo views the holding mid positions with mixed feelings, the result of one key loss and an equally critical returnee. "Amanda Kwan (travelling
and working in Australia) was as close to being a coach on the field as you will ever find," noted Gallo. "Losing that on-field general is tough."
Thankfully, this is also where all-star in waiting Catherine Rocca returns for her third year with the team. "She changed this program when she
came in two years ago," said Gallo. "She gave us the kind of midfield presence that we had been looking for for almost ten years."
At her side, Bianca Brieding will set up camp, as he readies for her third year with the team, but first as a starter. "She's worked extremely
hard and shown well," explained Gallo.
Offering more of an attacking support role to the midfield mix, Samantha Selkirk (4th year) is back after scoring only twice during the regular
season in 2016, but netting the biggest goal of her career in the 81st minute of the playoff win over Carleton. Megan Chivotti (2nd year) will
log important minutes, behind Selkirk, when needed.
And in an area of the pitch where injuries are almost a way of life, Laurentian is able to boast some back-ups, both new and old. In her second year out
of Brampton, Lucia Valdez is likely to see playing time, as is recent Macdonald-Cartier Panthères' graduate Lina Audet.
"We have an outstanding rookie in Audet," said Gallo. "She's a woman of few words who carries big shoes. She'll go in for a tackle, come out with a
bruise, but she's got the ball."
Even the attacking trio provides Gallo with a level of comfort, with Sudbury product Brianne Rodrigue (3rd year) and Michelle Welsh (4th
year) positioned on the wings, while Mia Degasperis (2nd year) draws the start in the opener ahead of Sarah Sanford (4th year), though both
strikers are expected to contribute in 2017.
"We have lot of speed on the outside, and the game is changing with speed," said Gallo. The pre-season was not without setbacks as touted recruit
Alex Perfetti was lost for the season after sustaining an ADVL knee injury just three minutes into the encounter with the Concordia Stingers
As well, Kylie Puddicombe was slotted for a starting role in just her second year with the Voyageurs before blowing out her knee for the second
time, back in the spring. Looking ahead, Gallo is more than a little excited to see the finished product that becomes of first year specimen Araya
Migwans-Bryan, noting substantial potential as well from walk-on Cassandra Cristiano from Niagara Falls.