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SG Soccer: Early Season Recap

By Erik Van Dyke
After a solid week of tryouts and practices and figuring out positions and getting to know each other, your Senior Girls Soccer Spartans kicked off their season in a major way last week, playing five games in only four days (last Saturday to last Tuesday). Did we learn a lot? Hard yes! Was it rough playing so much so early? Just ask our shin splints.
 
It all started with the 2023 edition of the Stanstead Invitational Tournament (aka the Dyke ‘N’ Friends) on Saturday. Over the last four decades, the SIT has become not only an annual highlight for our players and fans, but the visiting schools REALLY love it. It is such a friendly and competitive day, early in everyone’s season, and we put on such a good show (thank you Mr. Spirk!) with our fields and our dining hall and our welcoming community, that schools jockey with each other every year for a spot in the draw. And once again, the SIT did not disappoint, with 8 girls teams and 4 boys teams filling our picturesque campus with the sights and sounds of competition and camaraderie. (BTW, no less than 3(!) visiting girls expressed serious interest in enrolling in SC next year – THAT is the power of the Dyke ‘N’ Friends).
 
In terms of the soccer, we did some good things over the course of our three games (7-0 vs Trafalgar, 0-1 vs Sacred Heart, and 0-3 vs LCC);
  • 1st year player Natalia Chenier scored the first Spartan goal of the season from just inside the 18-yard box on her way to a hat trick vs Trafalgar, but the Play Of The Game goes to Edythe McKenzie who scored the first goal of her life on a post-corner kick scramble – Congratulations, Edythe!
  • Two other rookies who stood out vs Traf were Keshia Zonnon (tough as nails yet still calm on the ball) and Jana Loparic (intense and fearless with zero hesitation). As a coach, you can learn some stuff from practice, but game situations and game speed tell you a lot more.
  • At one point, our opponents’ frustration boiled over into some chippy play and confrontational language, but I am happy with how our players handled it, i.e. no retaliation, we didn’t let it affect us, just kept on dominating. Mature.
  • The coaching staff tried a new formation in the second game. The bad news is it didn’t really work (as veterans Avah St-Pierre and Maddie Lippmann politely pointed out afterwards!). The good news is it showed us just how tough Player Of The Game Alexa Gagné was in the heart of the midfield. Winning balls in the midfield is always a physical battle, and Alexa likes to battle.
  • Despite the new formation, we had some decent chances in the first half, especially on Maddie’s booming instant-offense punts, but after offensive midfielder Emilie Labonté was injured on a weird, unlucky play, we were rocked back on our heels for the rest of the game, finally conceding the lone and deciding goal on an absolute missile from 25 yards out that is, I think, still going up as I type this.
  • The third game of a tournament is always “the tired game,” but I was happy with our energy and effort vs the eventual champions from Lower Canada College, especially Player Of The Game Gloria Riddell who played with intent and an attacking mindset the entire game, consistently probing and looking for ways to break down the Lions defense from her right wing position.
  • The Almost Play Of The Game – and oh it woulda been a beauty – came when Camryn Moore launched a direct kick from 40 yards out that Natalia leaped for and headed towards the bottom right corner and JUST missed. I can count on one hand the number of goals in my career that my senior girls teams have scored on headers – that would’ve been the prettiest.
Now, while the SIT is a fun day, the real season begins with ETIAC league play, and that started on the following Monday against our oldest rivals, BCS, i.e. the ideal way to start The Chase for The Banner:
 
Natalia, starting at offensive mid, opened the scoring with a rocket from the top of the box, and that opened the floodgates, i.e. next came Camryn on a penalty shot after being tripped in the box (and sliding/diving 6 feet forward quite professionally I might add!), then Camryn again off a nice switch from Jana, and finally Carolyn Berkling-Drouin to Nyakah Pierre to Natalia to make it 4-0 by halftime. The Red & White Machine was rolling, and BCS had no way to stop it.
 
The second half, despite fewer goals, also had its moments. Rookie Annie LaMantia was confidently solid in goal. Gabriela Leroux looked comfortable at defensive midfield. Jadin Bingham – with Avah’s helpful leadership – improved throughout the game at right defense. Lana Peasley had two good chances that barely missed. Keshia was such a dominant ball-winner and distributor at defensive mid that she earned Player Of The Game honours. And Addy Pierce had both 1) the Play Of The Game AND 2) the Quote Of The Week.
 
POTGAddy asks to take a corner kick from the right side and proceeds to score DIRECTLY into the top left corner without a player or goalie touching it!
 
QOTW:  When asked in the locker room afterwards if she’d ever done something that crazy before, she coolly responded, “Yeah, a lot.”
 
Final score 5-0 for your Spartans, and we left our field with good vibes, i.e. we’d improved our offensive throw-ins, our throw-in coverage, our midfield shape, and, most importantly, our overcrowding. But we couldn’t celebrate for long, because a mere 22 hours later…
 
…we were warming up for our second league game vs Massey-Vanier. On a dreary, rainy day. But I was thrilled with our warmup, as we ignored the rain and got down to serious business right away – just ask Maddie who was a muddy/drenched mess BEFORE the opening whistle!
 
Our energetic warmup resulted in a great start to the game. MVR is a good team, with skilled midfielders and tough defenders, but for the first 60 minutes we outclassed them. Gloria notched the first goal of the game off a Camryn cross, Natalia followed with a sublime direct kick around the wall, our positioning was much improved, everyone played with purpose, and Player Of The Game Natalia Chenier was everywhere, presenting for her teammates and consistently making the right read and orchestrating the offense. Kudos also go to Valerie Lin for seamlessly moving over to left defense from her usual home on the right, to Naya for trying right defense for the first time ever (and doing a solid job), and to Sofia Martinez for her fine positional play at defensive mid.
 
In fact, the first 60 minutes of this game was so good, let’s give out some awards:
 
Throw-My-Umbrella Play Of The Game: Keshia works the ball to Natalia, who draws the defense in before finding Gloria on the right wing, who advances, draws the wing defender, steps over the ball and sends a short pass to Natalia, who one-times a perfect little thru ball to Jade Wilson, who runs on, collects and coolly finishes bottom left to make it 3-0. The prettiest Spartan goal I’ve seen in years.
 
Save Of The Game #1: Maddie on a low drive labelled for the bottom left corner. Perfect dive. Perfect form. No rebound.
 
Save Of The Game #2:  The puddle (Colby ghost?) in Maddie’s net that stopped a Vikings shot from crossing the line. Hey, that’s what home field advantage is all about!
 
Best Swimmer: Camryn, doing the backstroke in a big puddle on the field during the game.
 
And finally, the Biggest Smile Award: Jade, after scoring her first goal of the season on the “umbrella” play mentioned above, I tell ya, she looked like an 8-year old on Christmas morning!
 
Now, I haven’t talked about the last 20 minutes yet, as there’s not much to say except we ran out of gas. It was the end of a long stretch of a lot of soccer, we were beat, and MVR had the clear edge in play. But thanks to the defense we hung on for the critical 3-1 win, putting us exactly where we want to be – undefeated – in prime position for The Chase for The Banner.
 
Whose house did we just defend? OUR HOUSE! But now we go on the road, with three straight ETIAC road games followed by the CAIS National Tournament in Toronto. It will be 22 days before we play in front of our home fans again. Over three weeks. The time of Our House is suspended. It is now the time of the Road Warriors. Here we go…

Coaches Van Dyke & Kirby
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