Following the Thanksgiving long weekend, the Stanstead College Senior Boys Soccer Spartans took a break from ETIAC play and boarded the bus and headed to St. Catharines, Ontario. After a three-year hiatus because of COVID-19, finally, our team would play in the 20-team 2023 Canadian Accredited Independent Schools soccer tournament, held on the campus of Ridley College.
In soccer’s major tournaments such as the World Cup and regional competitions like the UEFA championships, very strong teams, when grouped in the same bracket, are often referred to as the Group of Death because they are so competitive, they are hard to progress into the next round and good teams become eliminated from the competition. Well, the Spartans were included in the same group as traditional powerhouses Lower Canada College (LCC) from Montreal, Country Day School (CDS) from Toronto, and a team we always seem to be grouped with – St. Andrew’s College (SAC) from Aurora, Ontario.
Game 1 – Thursday, October 12, 9:30am - Stanstead College 3 vs Country Day School 0
The Spartans started the tournament confidently and got off to a great start. We played on the front foot; we were courageous, and we controlled the game’s tempo. Ten minutes into the game, Jordan Ilunga’s hard shot was misplayed by the CDS goalkeeper and deflected off him into the net. This early goal buoyed our spirits and encouraged us to push for more. Two more goals came our way in the second half. The second goal resulted when William Towner poked home Henry Riddell’s nice pass in the 62nd minute and then Riddell scored after a fine setup by Matteo Paradis. Emanuel Ganz was solid in goal as he saved all 7 shots he faced.
Game 2 – Thursday, October 12, 2:00pm - Stanstead College 1 vs LCC 2
This was a game our boys were really looking forward to playing. We knew LCC was a very strong team and a contender in the top 8 teams or the Gold Division of the CAIS tournament, but no matter what, our guys wanted to pit themselves against a rival Quebec school. When all was said and done, our Spartans ran, tackled, passed and battled step for step with the LCC Lions. Unfortunately, we gave up a long range shot halfway through the first half but stayed in the game by putting all 5 shots on target. If the first half was solid, and it was, then the second half, apart from the opening minute, was more encouraging. We conceded an early goal, breaking the cardinal rule of not allowing an opposition goal in the first 5-minutes of the opening of a game or half, but we responded only 5 minutes later when Will Towner and Jordan Ilunga combined to set up Henry Riddell, who finished with a great shot. Limiting LCC to 3 second-half shots was a fantastic accomplishment and a credit to our team defence. For the remainder of the half, we pushed and threw as much as possible into our attack, often frustrating LCC. While the Lions defence was tested and they bent, they certainly did not break. A great game for Stanstead, as we really stood up to a high-quality team.
Game 3 – Friday, October 13, 10:30am – SAC 2 vs Stanstead College 1
St. Andrew’s College… SAC… juggernaut of a program, perennial contender to win the CAIS tournament… powerhouse! They were every bit of that and more. For the SC coaching staff, this was the biggest challenge and most fun game of the entire year, without a doubt! SAC’s roster is filled with high-end talent – they even have a Ugandan under-16 national team player – so it was a David vs Goliath match-up, but it certainly wasn’t one that intimidated the Spartans. Quite simply, in order to move into the gold division of the playoff bracket, we needed to beat SAC. We were very well organized and played outstanding team defence in the first half, as we shifted sideways across the field, stepped up the field to pressure our opponents, dropped back to absorb their attacks and defended almost flawlessly in 1-on-1 and small group situations. While we only generated 2 first-half scoring chances, we allowed 12 shots with 6 on target, all saved by Emanuel Ganz. Most importantly, we played a fantastic first half which saw both teams go to the interval at 0-0. Against high-quality teams, one must hold their nerve, concentrate like there’s no tomorrow, and not let up for a moment. Unfortunately, SAC were awarded a very generous handball call at the 2-minute mark when the ball struck a Spartan player whose arms were alongside his body. In most cases this would be a “play on” situation, but not on this day. Ganz made a great dive to save the ball, but the speed and ferocity of the shot were a fraction quicker than Mani’s reaction. 1-0 SAC. Six minutes later, a SAC forward skillfully eluded two Spartan defenders and deposited the ball in the back of our net to make the score 2-0. Now, at this juncture many teams, in similar situations, would drop their heads and the goals would come pouring in because of SAC’s relentless pressure. However, our guys are a resilient bunch of players who quickly gathered their emotions and reasserted themselves. The final twenty minutes of the game was played at a hectic pace with chances created at both ends of the field. The intensity of the match heightened when, in the 57th minute, Stanstead was awarded a freekick approximately 35-yards from the SAC goal. Jordan Ilunga’s freekick found the head of team captain, Chaz Grenier, who rose like a salmon to outjump the taller SAC defender, and flick the ball over the head of the onrushing SAC keeper into the top right-hand corner of the goal. 2-1 SAC with 13 minutes to play – game on! In the last 5 minutes, we created one more high-quality scoring chance, however, Shun Hatano’s rocket of a shot flew just over the goal. Final score: SAC 2 – SC 1. With the loss, we were eliminated from the Gold Division, but we could still compete for a banner in the Silver Division.
Game 4 – Friday, October 13, 1:30pm – Holy Trinity School (HTS) 3 vs Stanstead College 1
For the first half of the game, we looked like we could pull off an upset and defeat another strong Toronto-area school. Heck, despite getting outshot 5 to 1, we took the lead in the game, scoring the only goal of the half in the 19th minute, when Matteo Paradis hammered a free kick into the roof of the goal from 25-yards, dead centre of the field. 1-0 Spartans. Unfortunately, the toll of playing 3.5 games in almost twenty-nine hours really began to show on the faces and in the tiring Spartan players’ legs. Second to most balls, indecision, errant passes, slow in our collective pressure and, big credit to HTS who came on like gangbusters, our Spartans began to concede more time and space in our own half of the field. We were trying and we were trying hard, but it seemed like the harder we tried the more mistakes we made. Sometimes that happens. HTS capitalized on our fatigue and began exerting their superior quality in the 6th minute when they tied the game and then again in minutes 57 and 62, to push the score to 3-1 and end any Spartan hopes of finishing in the running for the Silver Division banner. We were proud of our effort, attitude and approach to this game; we just ran out of gas. Final score: HTS 3 – SC 1. The remaining bit of business included a game on Saturday morning against Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS), from Saint John, NB., essentially for bragging rights and to decide placement and brackets for the 2024 CAIS tournament.
Game 5 – Saturday, October 14, 9:30am – Stanstead College 2 vs Rothesay Netherwood School 2
The game against RNS was a contest between two evenly matched teams, both of whom approached the game with the right attitude and proper sportsmanship in mind. So, in many respects, it was the perfect game to conclude the tournament. After a good night’s rest and our batteries somewhat recharged, our Spartans dominated the first half in terms of territorial play, scoring chances created and in the goals scored category, too. Henry Riddell was the provider for Luke DeLaBruere who scored from close range in the 31st minute and propelled the Spartans to a 1-0 halftime lead. However, RNS showed that they had plenty of fight left in their collective tank, as they came out firing early in the second half. It was so early, in fact, that a long-range effort from 40 yards found the back of the Spartan net in minute one and practically before the Spartans knew the half had kicked off. RNS continued their positive play and took the lead in the 10th minute. This had shades of HTS from the previous afternoon written all over it, except the Spartans vowed not to let that happen again. Once again, our Spartans banded together, got our team shape and collective mindset right, and soon enough we started to exert our game plan. This paid off fairly quickly for Stanstead because in the 18th minute, midfielder Ryder Busto collected the ball and laid on a great through pass for Henry Riddell to cleanly beat the RNS goalkeeper. 2-2 with 17 minutes to play. The last five minutes were all Stanstead College. We created a flurry of chances in about a 10-second span where the ball was played on goal only to be stopped, blocked or deflected at least four times but it didn’t find the back of the net. Our last solid excellent moment to possibly win the game occurred in the last minute when Jordan Ilunga’s first-time shot from just outside the penalty area struck the inside of the goalpost, rolled directly and perfectly along the goal line, but not over it. Eventually, the ball spun away from the goal and was cleared from danger. Final score: Stanstead 2 – RNS 2.