The Varsity Blues women's soccer team had their best season in program history COURTESY OF HENRY ZHAO/VARSITY BLUES

It’s been a big year for the Varsity Blues women’s soccer team. The Blues earned an impressive 24 total points to tie for third place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East division in terms of points, which is leaps and bounds from their performance last year.

The team also made program history twice this season: first, by advancing to the semifinals at nationals, and second, by earning a U SPORTS bronze medal. A lot of factors that led to this fantastic success; notably a head coaching change, brand new players, and seasoned veterans. The Varsity spoke to Captain Maddie MacKay and striker Erin Kelly to get the inside scoop on a stellar season.

The players largely attribute their success to a change in team mindset, which was jump-started by a shift in coaching staff. Angelo Cavalluzzo, who was an assistant coach in the 2018 season, stepped up to the plate after the resignation of Head Coach Luciano Lombardi. Assistant Coaches Kieran Doyle Davis and Jessie Faber also joined, alongside longtime goalkeeper coach Dave Ennis.

This marked a dramatic shift in the coaching style and consequently impacted team morale, notes MacKay. “The new coaching staff really injected the team with a desire to succeed and a belief that we were actually capable of doing so,” she says.

“It really felt like every single player was committed to giving it their all this year, which is a very different kind of culture compared to years past.” Kelly agrees that “they brought huge energy that positively affected players and carried momentum throughout the year.”

This positive energy allowed for huge improvements to be made over the course of the season. The Blues notched seven wins and a mere three losses, all thanks to continued improvement and renewed motivation.

Kelly notes that at first, there was a learning curve that came with the new coaching and thus a new formulation of play, which eventually worked out for the best. “We learned a new system of play which we got more comfortable with as we played more games, making for some offensive creativity as the season progressed.”

“I’ve personally learned more this year than in my previous three years with the program combined, and it’s all thanks to our coaching staff. They’re a really fantastic group of people and we wouldn’t have been as successful as we were this year without them,” MacKay added.

The proof is in the numbers: when Toronto first played against the Queen’s Gaels they lost, but during the next rematch, Toronto managed to draw. Late in October, the very same Blues beat the Gaels handily, with a score of 3–0.

These improvements bought them a ticket to Victoria, British Columbia, for the U SPORTS Championship for the first time. They proceeded to beat the Cape Breton Capers 3–0 to advance to the national semifinal.

“I never thought we’d make it to [the] OUA final four, let alone win a national medal,” admits MacKay. Kelly adds that she felt “very proud to represent the alumni that worked so hard during their time with the team. I felt motivated to work as hard as possible for players that [are] graduating this year.”

MacKay is potentially one of them. “It’s definitely super emotional,” she admits. “During your time you watch a lot of teammates come and go, but it doesn’t really register until it’s happening to you. I hope I’m able to come back for one more year, but if not then I couldn’t have asked for a better one to end off on.”

The introduction of some new talent also added fuel to the fire of this red-hot season. Miranda Badovinac joined the Blues as a midfielder after playing for the University of Albany for two seasons, and made her mark. She scored a total of 13 goals over the course of the season, and had two assists. Striker Jenny Wolever, a convert from the Queen’s Gaels, the Blues’ rivals, represented Canada at the 2019 International University Sports Federation Summer Universiade in Italy before scoring nine goals and performing eight assists for the Blues.

So, what’s in store for next year? Hopefully a stayed course on this upward trajectory. If one thing’s certain, it’s that the Blues women’s soccer team is showing no signs of slowing down.

MacKay says that all of the home-turf support the team has been getting is helping them stay enthusiastic and focused on next season. “The support from everybody at U of T since we’ve gotten back has also been really overwhelming… It really feels like everyone is genuinely happy for our success.”

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