All the way to Baggataway

Inside the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team’s 2018 season

All the way to Baggataway

“That’s a turnover!” head coach Joe Nizich shouts, his voice echoing through Varsity Stadium as an errant pass sails out of bounds. He shakes his head and paces down the sideline, exasperated.

The Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team lines up and resets the drill.

“We have to hold on to the ball!” Nizich yells, and as the whistle sounds, the team restarts the drill. The whistle sounds again, and again, and again. Just like it has nearly every day since late August, all in preparation for the November 9–11 weekend when the Blues host the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA) championship, the Baggataway Cup, for the first time in their program’s history.

Baggataway. The word on everyone’s lips since it leaked in early spring that U of T would be hosting the tournament. Baggataway, “the Creator’s game” — the game played by the Indigenous peoples of this land that has come to be known as lacrosse. Baggataway, the final weekend of the CUFLA men’s lacrosse season.

September 7: Toronto at Laurier (win)

The final seconds of the halftime break are ticking off. The Blues are huddled together, laughing and gesturing to the scoreboard, 7–2. It’s only halftime, but the game is surely over. Captain Jason “Barney” Barnable has begun the season the same way he begins every season — scoring goals and setting them up. As the team comes together before taking to the field again, coach Nick Bradley is quick to pour water on the flames. He looks around the huddle, and shakes his head. “I don’t know why you’re all laughing, score’s 0–0.”

Play like the score is tied; it’s a common refrain in team sports. Imagine the next goal as the winning goal. In the first game of their season, it’s a lesson that the Blues have yet to learn. A game that seemed certain at halftime ends closer than it needed to.

On this night, the talent on the Blues roster makes the difference. They win the game, but as they get back on the bus and fight through traffic to arrive home in the early hours of the morning, they know that, in the coming weeks and months, talent alone will not be enough.

September 28: Toronto vs. Brock (loss)

The Blues are down big time. They’ve given the last 72 minutes of gameplay at home to Brock. Through the bitterly wet and windy night, the Blues have fought hard, but there’s only eight minutes left and they’re going to lose this game. A timeout is called and the team huddles together with the coaches.

Team captain Zach Holmes hunches over, exhausted — 72 minutes and he’s played every second. He winces as he stands up straight, his back to the scoreboard. Tall, proud, and defiant in the face of defeat, he says, “We can play with them, boys, we can play with anyone in this league — we just have to play our game.”

Their heads raised high and eyes blinking through rain that is now falling heavier and heavier with each minute, there’s a sense of determination and belief that resounds through the team. It isn’t about the single lopsided game, it’s about the progress. It’s about finishing as you mean to go on. “We’re going to play a team like this at Baggataway,” coach Jon Moore says. Normally calm, jovial, and easygoing, the team’s offensive coordinator is electric come game time. “They’re not better than us. Our guys against their guys any day of the week.”

The team comes together again, huddling close. “Eight miles, boys!” a reference to former captain Jonathan “Rudy” Rudyk’s favourite method for keeping time. There’s some laughter and a few grins, then on the count of three, “Blues!” rings through the huddle, through the wind and rain. There’s a sense of togetherness and a sense of family.

There’s no Hollywood ending to this game. No emotional comeback. No last-second winner. There have been some of those in past games and in games to come; but not tonight.

The 2018 Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team. PHOTO COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES ATHLETICS

A heartbreaking loss

The men’s lacrosse team has a group chat, as almost every varsity team does. It’s a space to talk about practice, workouts, academics, and general team banter. It’s a space all of their own, away from coaches, and trainers, and doctors. A place to tease and support each other, it’s a virtual locker room.

On September 10, a different message is sent in the group chat. It is a message that will dramatically alter and come to define the season. Coach, former captain, and forever friend Alejandro Duque passed away the day before. The shock and heartbreak that the players feel is beyond words, beyond comprehension. Senior players had been teammates with Al; they had leaned on his experience, been motivated by his burning passion, and come to love him as a brother. They can’t make sense of it. He was so young, so vibrant, and so excited for the next chapter of his life. The first-year players, most of whom hadn’t met Al, don’t know how to react, only understanding that Al’s loss was a massive one.

That week, practice is tough. No one has the words to describe the hole that is left in the heart of the team. No one wants to practice, and yet being there, together, is comforting.

The one thing that unites the team, that unites every player on the roster, is a love for lacrosse. They take comfort in a crisp pass and an extra effort to get a loose ball. They take comfort in celebrating a particularly outrageous goal, and a stellar defensive play. They take comfort in the sport they love, and it is healing.

The team attends Alejandro’s celebration of life later in the week. Generations of Blues lacrosse players come to say goodbye. It is emotional in many ways. There are many tears, but nearly as many smiles. In a time of such sorrow, there is a sense of family.

Thing One and Thing Two

“Power, do your stretches!” Darren “Blondie” Elliott shouts over his shoulder. “You do your stretches!” Sean Power yells back, mocking him.

“Power!”

“Blondie!”

The pair go on like this for a few more moments, shouting at each other and bickering like an old married couple, much to the amusement of the rest of the team. Thing One and Thing Two. Inseparable off the field and leaders on it. Both joined the team the previous year; Blondie, a silky smooth attackman, and Power, a tenacious midfielder.

An offensive midfielder last year, Power selflessly moved to the defensive side of the ball for this season. There’s no glamour in being a defensive midfielder in field lacrosse. No goals or fancy tricks. No six-foot long pole to wield like a broadsword. It’s a hard, heavy job between your marked man and the ball-carrier. The constant running, vicious body-checking, and fear of making a mistake and having to fish the ball out of your net.

But the team comes first, and Power’s sacrifice has ensured a strong and dependable defense. At their best, the Blues defense frustrates, leaving their rivals bruised, battered, and struggling to score.

September 30: Toronto vs. McMaster (win)

As darkness descends around Varsity Stadium, the bright lights shine down on the Blues as they warm up. Everyone on the team has their own pre-game ritual. Some spend time alone to focus. Others exchange lighthearted banter and shoot on the net until the coaches call them in.

The Blues always find McMaster a difficult opponent. Although unable to match Toronto’s talent, McMaster never fails to match their intensity. This game is no different. Heading into the final 20-minute quarter, the Blues are losing by a goal.

In a season filled with such promise — and with the ultimate goal of lifting a trophy at season’s end — losing to McMaster at home would be devastating.

With less than 10 minutes left, first-year attacking midfielder and graduate student Nick Pison scores his second of the game to tie things up. A diamond found in the intramural rough, Pison has been an offensive standout for the Blues. But now at five minutes and counting, Mac once again takes the lead.

“No more,” Gabriel Lisus-Lean says. Those two words are simple enough to understand; they are the ethos of defense. Do not break, do not even bend. Give everything you have in these final minutes. Whatever it takes, hold.

This is defensive coordinator Lisus-Lean’s fourth year as a coach, after playing four years for the Blues.

Eight years with the program, and time and time again, he’s mentioned the dream of playing a playoff game at Varsity Stadium. The Blues are guaranteed that game at Baggataway, but Lisus-Lean is well aware that with the execution the Blues are showing tonight — that game could turn ugly.

CUFLA abides by international rules: four 20-minute quarters. But the fourth quarter of the game against McMaster isn’t going to be won or lost on September 30 alone; it is either won or lost during August training camp and every practice thereafter.

At the end of every practice, strength and conditioning coach Dr. Alex St. Pierre spends 10 minutes putting the Blues through brutal conditioning exercises that leave them gasping for air, legs leaden beneath them.

But it is these 10 minutes every day that give them the mental fortitude and physical ability to play the way they do in the final five minutes against McMaster.

With less than two minutes to go, Barney scores to tie the game. In the final minute, Barney finds Blondie, who buries his decisive second of the game. The Blues win.

Darren “Blondie” Elliott despairs at one of the few chances he’s missed. PHOTO BY SEYRAN MAMADOV/THE VARSITY BLUES

October 12: Toronto at Western (loss)

Rain is falling and the temperature is dipping dangerously close to zero; these are some of the only constants of October lacrosse. It’s halftime and the Blues are huddled together. They’re in London, taking on the Western Mustangs. After hours on the road, the Blues have come out flat. The coaches are seething, as the Blues have failed to make a simple play and they’re being punished for it.

Lacrosse is a brutal game. Historically, Indigenous peoples used this sport as a war game. Entire tribes would compete against each other on a scale scarcely imaginable, with estimates ranging from 100 participants to 100,000.

Today, only nine men and a goalie take the field at a time, and although it is no longer a war game, the stakes are still high and the play is still ferocious. Considered the fastest game on two feet, there is no slow play in lacrosse. It is full tilt and high octane, and at the highest level in the country, the animosity and vitriol is evident.

The Blues have an injury list that seems to be growing by the game. On this night, Barney, Blondie, first-year goalie Macon Jeffereys, and I — a fourth-year defensive midfielder — are unable to play. Many of the Blues on field are nursing injuries too, but playing through pain is nothing new.

The Blues’ entire roster at full strength is only half of the Mustangs’ dressed roster. Leaden legs chase desperately after the Mustangs, who are two-time defending national champions.

Second-year long-stick midfielder James “Chilli” Keane has run ragged into the ground. Play after play, he has hacked, slashed, and stopped one of the most prolific offenses in the league. But in a war of attrition, on this night, the Blues are outmatched. The score ends 21–6. It could have been far worse if not for the efforts of goalie Matt Frola.

In the locker room, there is nothing to say. The team knows. They know that simple mistakes lead to goals. That to beat the Mustangs, they needed to play a near perfect game. Tonight wasn’t perfect, not nearly. But it was a lesson, especially of the type of game that the Blues would need to play to win at Baggataway.

In professional sports, there is an old adage that says athletes need short memories. Through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows they must keep level heads. But as undergraduate and graduate students, the Blues are not professional athletes, and their spirits tonight are low.

Jeffrey Zade is an upper-year student studying molecular biology. With a wicked shot, always low to high, the attackman doubles as the team’s de facto comedian. He gauges the mood on the ride back from London. As the bus rolls through the dark night, past farmers’ fields, construction, and the glare of traffic, Zade slowly but surely lightens the mood.

Back in Toronto, the team steps off the bus laughing, eager to continue their journey to Baggataway.

Two more weeks of sleeps

It’s Wednesday, September 5, and the Blues are scheduled to open their season against Laurier on Friday night.

After a long night of practice, the Blues slow clap and circle up. Water bottles are passed around and ice is given to those in need. They discuss the things that went well, and the things that they need to work on tomorrow. The beauty of practice is that there is always another one tomorrow.

“Three more sleeps!” someone calls out, reminding everyone of the coming game and the dawn of this most important season. There’s a lot of laughter, and some shoving, “Two sleeps, you mean?” More laughter, as the team struggles to figure out how many sleeps until the seventh. After an embarrassing few moments, everyone realizes that it is, in fact, two more sleeps.

The laughter and camaraderie is what makes the Blues special.

Now, for the next two weeks until November 9, the Blues will practice for their 7:00 pm quarterfinal game at Varsity Stadium.

Weeks and months of field practice, work in the gym, and for many, years of playing lacrosse for U of T, are coming together for this final weekend of the season.

Since August, the Blues have practiced day in and day out for Baggataway. They have practiced and played to make sure that, come November 9, they are ready to lay it all on the line.

Baggataway — for the first time in the program’s history.

York Lions defeat Varsity Blues in 49th Red & Blue Bowl

Lions catch fire in second quarter

York Lions defeat Varsity Blues in 49th Red & Blue Bowl

The Varsity Blues football team wrapped up their season with a 31–15 loss against longtime rival York Lions in the 49th annual Red & Blue Bowl on Saturday afternoon.

The Lions’ defense opened up the game by forcing a safety less than a minute into the game. York then managed to grab a 3–0 lead with a rouge point converted by kicker Dante Mastrogiuseppe. In the second quarter, the Blues evened the score by capitalizing on a six-play drive that resulted in a field goal.

Things turned completely one-sided in the second quarter as the Lions’ offense caught fire. Toronto’s defense looked lost as they gave up 28 points in a span of 10 minutes. Wide receiver Luther Hakunavanhu started York’s 28-point flurry with a touchdown catch, thrown by quarterback Brett Hunchak.

The Lions quarterback then connected with his brother, Colton Hunchak, for a three-yard touchdown pass. With less than two minutes to go in the first half, the Lions scored twice to go up 31–3.

Running back Kayden Johnson managed to get in the end zone on a one-yard touchdown run. On the Blues’ following drive, defensive back Kadeem Thomas intercepted Vince Luccisano, giving the Lions the ball back. Quarterback Noah Craney found Eric Kimmerly in the back of the end zone to close out a dominant first half by the Lions.

The Blues’ only touchdown of the game came in the fourth quarter on a run by running back Max Gyimah. U of T closed the game with a 31-yard field goal by kicker Ethan Shafer to make it 31–15.

York’s Brett Hunchak was phenomenal in the game. Hunchak threw for 303 yards along with two touchdowns, completing 26 passes on 38 attempts. Johnson ran for 69 yards and one touchdown. A trio of receivers, Eric Kimmerly, Colton Hunchak, and Hakunavanhu, each caught a touchdown pass.

Blues second-year quarterback Vince Luccisano struggled heavily against the Lions’ defense. Luccisano threw for only 72 yards while also throwing three interceptions. Rookie quarterback David Maecker replaced Luccisano in the third quarter, going five-for-10 for 82 yards and only one interception. Blues wide receiver Will Corby ended the season on a high note with eight receptions for 114 yards.

A pre-game ceremony and 25th anniversary of the 1993 Yates and Vanier Cup was hosted by the Blues to honour graduating players Connor Ennis, Wade Zanchetta, Ryan Grandell, Patrick Pankow, Jordan Sidsworth, Cole Goodfellow, Wacey Schell, Lamar Foyle, Nick Hallett, and Carter Gladman.

The 2018 Blues football season comes to a disappointing end as they were unable to secure a victory, placing them at the bottom of the OUA standings.

Blues sneak past Nipissing Lakers in 2–1 victory

Blues win close match on final weekend

Blues sneak past Nipissing Lakers in 2–1 victory

On a chilly autumn evening, the Varsity Blues women’s soccer team closed out their regular season with a win against the Nipissing Lakers.

Anticipation was in the air at Varsity Stadium as the sun set and the game began.

The Blues struggled to get their rhythm at the beginning of the first half. Some cracks in the defense offered a few opportunities for the Lakers. At a mere six minutes into the game, Nipissing’s Lauren De Jong got a shot on net after a free kick. While Blues goalkeeper Vanna Staggolis initially stumbled, she managed to swap the ball up in an impressive recovery.

As the game progressed, the Blues managed to keep their momentum up with a few close opportunities. In the 11th minute, the Blues got on the end of a cross, but the ball immediately went over the net. At the 25-minute mark, after a cross from the right wing, Blues midfielder Julia Gonsalves managed to control the ball with her chest but once again couldn’t find the back of the net.

As halftime neared, Blues striker Natasha Klasios turned the game around by sneaking past a Lakers defender in a one-on-one and easily slipping the ball into the corner of the net, past Nipissing goalkeeper Mykaela Volpe.

The Blues came into second half with Erin Kelly substituting for Gonsalves. Kelly was a strong presence on the field, providing Toronto with fast-paced energy and strong footwork.

Early into the half, it was clear that Nipissing was hungry for a goal. Nipissing forward Andrea Young had two close calls around the 50-minute mark — the first was saved by Staggolis and the second ran wide — all in the span of three minutes. After a scramble in the penalty box during the 69th minute, Young managed to get a shot on net. Responding quickly, Staggolis made a beautiful diving save.

Despite the increasing pressure from Nipissing, the Blues managed to keep their composure. Toronto’s front line was consistently solid leading up to the team’s second goal of the night. In the 76th minute, after a solid run, Klasios placed a perfect pass to Blues captain Chelsea Cheung, who scored firmly, leaving little time for Volpe to react.

The end of the match saw both teams get physical. A minute after Cheung’s goal, Nipissing forward Abby Wroe received a yellow card for running into Staggolis after she received the ball. Staggolis quickly shoved Wroe away, adding a tense atmosphere to the game.

The Lakers received a corner kick at the 85th minute, when Staggolis saved an attempt on goal by Wroe. Within the minute, Nipissing received a second corner — this time, Wroe found the net from inside the six-yard box.

Both teams played hard up until the last seconds of extra time. The game ended with the Blues firing nine shots, making six saves, and receiving eight fouls. The Lakers had 10 shots, three saves, and six fouls.

The win wraps up the Blues’ regular season with five wins, six losses, and four ties.

Helmy double seals Blues’ tense 4–2 win against Lakers

Toronto men’s soccer display strong ball distribution

Helmy double seals Blues’ tense 4–2 win against Lakers

The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team scored four goals against a resilient Nipissing Lakers, but continue to give the impression that they have yet to fully hit their stride.

The Blues entered the Saturday evening game against the fifth-placed Lakers with very little at stake, having sealed third place in the Ontario University Athletics East conference the week prior. In the 14 preceding games this season, they have comfortably etched out their position as a buffer between the heavyweight table-topping duo of the Carleton Ravens and the Ryerson Rams and the rest of the division.

This performance always threatened to produce the free-flowing, counterattacking barrage that the team is capable of, but, symptomatic of its dead rubber nature, the 4–2 result showcased the Blues’ profligacy in front of goal, and surprisingly poor set-piece defending.

Just 13 seconds after kickoff, Blues fourth-year goalkeeper Stefan Dusciuc was forced to divert a shot behind for a corner after Nipissing exposed gaps in the Toronto defense with cross-field passing.

The following minute would best be described as a panicked affair for Toronto, who could not leverage control of the ball or assert defensive authority.

The Lakers would swing in a cross to an overloaded penalty box, forcing Dusciuc to palm the resulting shot directly back into the danger zone. Nipissing’s Cody Vaillancourt was quickest to react, slamming the ball into the Toronto net just one minute and 14 seconds into the game.

Following the restart, the Blues organized with three at the back and Blues captain Nikola Stakic — usually playing at the heart of the defence — as the team’s midfield anchor. Despite his smart movement and tracking back, a lack of support in the centre of the pitch allowed Nipissing to dominate control in the early periods. Nipissing’s high press further pushed Stakic into defensive duties, and the rest of the attack-minded midfield lacked the tools to offset the opposition’s attacks.

Still, the Blues were clearly cognizant of their strength on the wings, and almost found an equalizer in the seventh minute. On the right flank, Blues winger Koosha Nazemi played the ball to Nick Chiappetta, who returned it to Nazemi in the opposition penalty box with a well-worked backheel pass. One-on-one with the Nipissing goalie, Nazemi shanked a tame effort woefully wide of the net.

The Blues were left to wait until the 24th minute for their equalizer, as a terrible Nipissing pass unleashed midfielder Yousef Helmy toward goal. Helmy showed good ball control in dribbling past the opposition defense, slotting a comfortable goal into the bottom left corner of the goal. With the newfound confidence of a well-taken goal, Helmy grew into the game as it progressed, picking out smart passes in the final third to stamp the Blues’ attacking intent on the game.

Playing his first home game, Blues first-year defender Jacob Maurutto-Robinson put on an excellent display, particularly with his impressive passing vision. In the 30th minute, he delivered a peach of a ball that beat the defensive line to Helmy. Helmy’s half volley was even sweeter than Maurutto-Robinson’s delivery, as the ball thundered past a hapless Nipissing goalie to make the score 2–1. Helmy’s silky dribbling and Maurutto-Robinson’s pinpoint passing would continue for the rest of the first half, giving the Blues more control over the game.

Excellent in the Blues’ previous set of home games, midfielder Anthony Sousa experienced a difficult start to the second half. In the 47th minute, he had a shot from point-blank range saved by the goalie, and two minutes later, he blasted a shot high and wide, again from within the penalty box.

Maurutto-Robinson would again contribute, this time to the Blues’ third goal in the 53rd minute, after a targeted lob from 30 yards found Sousa, who lay the ball off to striker Jack Wadden to dispatch and make the score 3–1.

Despite the Blues’ momentum, their defense on set-pieces continually left a lot to be desired, and in the 61st minute, they paid for their carelessness. A Nipissing corner somehow found Darius Tignanelli in acres of space, and he was all too happy to place the ball into the net. Stakic and Dusciuc will have been disappointed by their failure to organize their backline for the second time of the evening, but perhaps this will serve as an impetus for head coach Anthony Capotosto to work more on man-marking in training.

The Blues started to slip from the game following Nipissing’s second goal, and too many times, they were forced back to their goalie by the Nipissing press. Dusciuc himself was forced into a couple of rushed clearances and poor balls and, on another day, the Blues could easily have been punished for a lack of structure and composure in the defensive third.

Curiously, following a raft of substitutions in the 68th minute that included midfielder Michael Matic entering the play, the Blues were able to assert more control over the game, and Matic scored the team’s fourth in the 72nd minute from inside the box.

Even with the dead rubber victory in the bag, the Blues kept foraging forward, and in the 90th minute, Nazemi delivered a perfect pass to striker Jae Jin Lee in the box. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, Lee hit the post from inside 10 yards. While he will have been disappointed not to add to his seven-goal tally of the season — and he certainly won’t get many easier chances — luckily, the miss wasn’t of importance this time.

Blues men’s hockey lose to Ryerson Rams in home opener

Ryerson defeats Toronto 6–2

Blues men’s hockey lose to Ryerson Rams in home opener

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team dropped their home opener 6–2 against the Ryerson Rams on Friday night.

The Blues opened the game with first-year forward Nathan Hudgin scoring on a pass from David Thomson, beating Rams goalie Garrett Forrest to provide the Blues with a 1–0 lead.

Despite the Blues’ early goal, the Rams looked to be more aggressive on offense, leading 12–6 shots on goal after the first period.

Ryerson started the second period with a strong push, tying the game at 1–1 less than a minute into the period. With no time wasted, Ryerson found themselves back in the game with a goal scored by forward Devon Paliani.

The Rams then capitalized on a power play, extending their lead 2–1 with a goal by Matt Mistele.

The Blues’ defense struggled as Ryerson’s Steven Harland and Devon Paliani found the back of the net, making it a 4–1 game, and Paliani’s second of the game. The second period belonged to the Rams as they scored an impressive four goals while shutting out the Blues’ offense. At the end of the period, the Rams offense dominated with a staggering 32–18 shots on goal.

The Rams never looked back, as they scored again to begin the final period. U of T managed to score with a goal by Josh Hanson, cutting the lead 5–2 and bringing hopes of a comeback. Ryerson then added on another goal, dashing any chances of a comeback.

Blues goalie Alex Bishop struggled on the night, allowing six goals. Forrest saved 30 shots of 32 attempts, helping Ryerson cruise to an easy 6–2 win.

“It wasn’t one of our better performances. We’ll just leave it at that,” said Blues defender Josh Hanson. “We expect a lot better of ourselves.”

When asked about the momentum lost in the second period, Hanson replied, “I think it’s as simple as we just weren’t ready to play in the second period.”

However, considering future games, Hanson said, “Games in back-to-back nights like this, you can’t dwell on the negative. We’re not going to sit here all night and think about how differently this game could have gone.”

“We’re definitely going to strive to wipe this one clean of our memories,” he concluded. “We’re going to go forward and play some better hockey.”

Blues women earn comeback victory over Windsor

Five different players scored for Toronto

Blues women earn comeback victory over Windsor

Supporters turned out to watch the Blues women’s hockey team kick off their regular season in fantastic fashion on Saturday night, as the squad posted a 5–3 comeback victory over the Windsor Lancers. It was a true team effort for the Blues, as five different players scored and 10 recorded points on the evening.

Toronto dug themselves into a hole early, as Windsor fired off two quick goals in the first four minutes. The Blues caught a tough break later on in the period, as Taylor Trussler and Louie Bieman were sent to the box for minor penalties about a minute apart. Amy Maitre was quick to take advantage of Windsor’s five on three advantage, converting on powerplay to put the Lancers up 3–0 with five minutes remaining in the first.

Maitre’s goal proved to be the last for the Lancers, however, and Toronto remained poised, relying on its veteran leadership and the strength of its forecheck to counter Windsor’s chippy, physical play. Stephanie Ayre’s goal from Trussler and Mathilde de Serres with about 30 seconds left in the frame was “really big” for the Blues, said Bieman, proving to energize both players and fans alike as the Blues headed into the first intermission down 3–1.

The latter two periods were all Blues, as Toronto scored four unanswered goals between the two periods to put the game away. The home side upped its intensity on their forecheck and absolutely dominated the second period, with the visiting Lancers struggling to even advance the puck past the centre line out of their own zone. Lauren Straatman scored a powerplay goal on the back of some great puck movement from Cristine Chao and Louie Bieman to cut the lead to just one point with 12 and a half minutes to go in the second, while Kassie Roache tipped in a beauty feed from Jana Headrick just three minutes later to tie it up at three apiece.

The Blues came storming out of the gates in the third, bringing fans to their feet as de Serres buried the go-ahead goal off an Ayres rebound just a minute into the period. Bieman provided the insurance marker with six minutes left in the game, showing off some nifty stick work to deke out the Windsor tender right in front of the crease and making it 5–3 Blues.

Coach Vicky Sunohara was pleased with her team’s ability to “keep composed,” and she credited the strength of the forecheck as well as the first line of Straatman, Bieman, and Roache, who “clicked well, passed the puck, and created a lot of chances.”

Fifth-year assistant captain Julia Szulewska gushed about her team’s performance under pressure. “You could just see it in our eyes that we wanted it more,” she said. “[The comeback] shows what kind of team we are. We don’t give up, and it was amazing to see.”

Second-year goalie Madeline Albert was solid, stopping 18 of 21 shots for the win.

Blues beat RMC Paladins 1–0

Klasios leads Blues to victory

Blues beat RMC Paladins 1–0

On a windy Saturday afternoon, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s soccer team took to the field to play the Royal Military College (RMC) Paladins. The game began quickly with fourth-year striker Natasha Klasios scoring in the seventh minute of the game from an indirect free kick, marking her fourth goal of the season.

Klasios’ goal set the tone for the rest of the game, with the Blues keeping control of the play for the majority of the game. In the first half, the Blues had a very strong defensive line that kept RMC to only one shot in the first 45 minutes. The Blues kept most of the play in RMC’s area and tried to get another goal, taking seven shots in the first half without success.

The second half had the Blues taking control of the game again, with most of the plays once again occurring in RMC’s end. Numerous attempts by Klasios, Erin Kelly, and Kristen Parkes were made to secure a second goal, but nothing was getting by RMC’s defensive line or goalie, Claudia Rusu.

Compared to the single substitution in the first half, there were many substitutions during the second half, with Toronto subbing three times and RMC four, mainly due to injury.

The Blues had a total of 18 shots over RMC’s three during the match. Eight of Toronto’s shots came from Klasios, while Kelly and Parkes each had three. Additionally, midfielder Maddie MacKay and defender Kelly Johnson contributed one shot each. Both teams’ goalies played good games, with Toronto’s Vanna Staggolis making two saves and Rusu making eight.

The game got a little more aggressive in the second half, with Toronto incurring three fouls and RMC incurring four — two in each half. In the last minute of the game, Kelly was issued a yellow card.

This game leaves the Blues at four wins, four losses, and two ties as of Saturday.

Wadden hat-trick seals routine Blues men’s soccer victory

Assured attacking display marks Toronto’s fourth-straight win

Wadden hat-trick seals routine Blues men’s soccer victory

After two weeks on the road, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s soccer team marked their Varsity Stadium return with a straightforward 4–0 victory against the Royal Military College (RMC) Paladins. Even with four goals scored, the Blues were not at their attacking best, but they still managed to make everything look easy. Fluid play and a robust midfield effectively slammed the door on an RMC team that certainly didn’t have the key to unlock the Blues’ defense, let alone a chance to try to pick the lock.

The Blues’ dominance was such that midfielder Nicholas Osorio and centreback and captain Nikola Stakic were withdrawn after 29 minutes, with the Blues leading 2–0.

The first goal of the game came in the 21st minute, after a long ball forward from defender Kenny Lioutas unleashed winger Koosha Nazemi down the right flank. Nazemi used his pace to easily brush off the RMC defense and venture into the opposition box. He directed a pass across the face of the goal for onrushing striker Jack Wadden to put past the keeper.

Two minutes later, Toronto fed the ball to midfielder Anthony Sousa 25 yards away from goal. An outrageous backheel flick split the RMC defense, allowing Wadden to slam the ball into the upper left corner with aplomb. Sousa’s assist was a moment of pure class, and Wadden’s alertness to the ball is equally worthy of plaudits.

Sousa continued to terrorize RMC with moments of brilliance, and he almost notched another assist after a great run down the flank, but his delivery fell just behind Wadden.

Despite adding two shots on target, Sousa also lost the ball on a few occasions when trying to be too fancy, and he showed no desire to track back and regain possession. Still, with a tricky Queen’s Gaels fixture the following day, Sousa was perhaps smart to conserve energy against poor opposition.

In fact, the Blues’ game plan seemed to centre around remaining focused and rested for the Queen’s game, with a lower intensity press and players freely attempting numerous tricks and dribbles that made the game seem more like a friendly than an OUA regular season clash.

It was clear before the match that RMC lacked the personnel to seriously challenge the Blues, and head coach Anthony Capotosto would have undoubtedly considered that, as he gave defender Dumebi Iheanacho his Blues debut and kept top scorer Jin Jae Lee off the matchday squad entirely.

Early in the second half, defender Josh Bowyer neatly split the RMC defense, but his pass was too heavy for Wadden to reach.

Moments later, Toronto’s third goal would come, following an attacking onslaught in the RMC box. A woefully out-of-position RMC leftback provided Kristopher Gamache space on the right side of the box, and he laid the ball off to Wadden, whose shot was returned to the danger area by the goalkeeper.

Gamache’s follow-up shot was blocked by one of a trio of RMC defenders who had congregated in front of goal, and his shot from the rebound was blocked again. Wadden received the rebound but likewise shot straight at a defender. The ball fell to Sousa, who, intent on not extending the series of blocks, curled his shot into the top corner to make it 3–0.

The Blues continued to torment the Paladins, and even though they didn’t constantly press, they chose their moments to press smartly. In the 63rd minute, they stole the ball in the attacking third and spread the ball to defender Nicola Russo on the left flank. Russo’s cross was too high but the referee pointed to the spot after deciding Gamache had been fouled in the box.

As soon as the whistle blew, it was clear that Wadden would take this opportunity from 12 yards out to earn his hat-trick. Wadden coolly dispatched his spot kick to the bottom left corner, beyond an outstretched goalkeeper.

Immediately after celebrations, he was substituted off, presumably to rest for the Queen’s game. Despite his lowered pressing intensity this game, Wadden’s positioning was a constant threat and will surely lead to more scoring opportunities in the remaining games this season.