The opening weekend of the season saw a number of new recruits making their OUA debutes for the Varsity Blues men’s and women’s soccer teams.
First-year players Sara Petrucci, Olivia Gonsalves, and Jermaine Burrell all made their first starts for the Blues, while first-year-eligible second-year student Nikola Paunic also featured.
The women’s team was in need of reinforcement, after losing several important players, including last season’s top scorer, midfielder Kate Crowley, and OUA first team all-star, midfielder Jenessa Banwell. “We’re starting with a fresh start here, a new coaching staff, a new group of players,” said Anthony Capotosto, who took over as head coach for both the men’s and women’s programs over the summer.
“We have a really young team,” said veteran fifth-year Nav Deol. “But the young girls are stepping up perfectly…they’re rising to the occasion.” Deol believes that the team has benefitted from the appointment of the new head coach. “Cap[otosto] has a wealth of information to share, and the girls are absorbing it like sponges and applying it to the game.”
Gonsalves — who started during both the opening day defeat to the Ottawa Gee-Gees, and the following day’s win over the Carleton Ravens — believes that the youth factor is an asset. “It’s exciting [to be part of a young team] because then you know that you’re going to be with the team for a while, it’s going to be a growing team.”
While the women’s team had a 1–1 record to show for their opening weekend of soccer, the men narrowly lost their opening fixture 3–2 to the Carleton Ravens. “We’ve got a lot of new guys in the changing room, a lot of them came out with a few nerves, they’re adjusting,” said fifth-year men’s captain Darragh McGee. “[The new players] don’t know what OUA soccer is, they’ve come out here at home, people, family here to see them — there’s a few nerves”
The men’s team also lost important starters since winning the OUA championship last season. Top scorer and OUA first-team all-star Nordo Gooden, and captain Alexander Raphael are both gone. “Guys have go to step in to that void,” said McGee. “A lot of these boys have an opportunity in this changing room, its up to them whether they take it.”
Burell is one of those players with an opportunity, and he made the most of it against the Ravens, playing the whole game and scoring a goal. “It’s my first OUA game, I didn’t expect to even start so it felt pretty good to stay on the whole game [and to score],” said Burrell, who has inherited the No. 8 shirt from Gooden.
“It’s always a challenge when we have new players, to try to get the same result we did last year with a new group of players,” said Capotosto of the men’s team. “But our first year players that have come in have shown [themselves to be] very capable.”
Midfielder Ezequiel Lubocki is another young player who will be important to the success of the men’s team this season. Unfortunately, the OUA East rookie of the year from last season was unfortunately injured for the Blues opening game.
It is a testament to the demanding schedule of fall sports that neither Gonsalves nor Burell had attended a single lecture before their Blues starting debuts. “It will be tough to balance [playing and studying] at the beginning, but I’m sure in the end it will work out,” said Gonsalves. “School and soccer, those are the priorities.”
“We’re going to look to build the women’s program. Our mandate is to make it one of the pre-eminent programs in Canada, and be one of the top contenders in CIS,” said Capotosto. “I have no doubts whatsoever we’ll retain our title,” said McGee of the men’s team.
If the opening weekend is any indication, the Varsity Blues soccer teams have a bright future ahead of them.