With a heart-wrenching semifinal loss still relatively fresh in their minds, the Cambrian College Golden Shield women's soccer team is determined to take another step forward this season.
OCAA bronze medalists two years ago, the Cambrian women held a 2-0 lead late in their semifinal last fall against powerhouse Algonquin, but it all slipped away in the waning minutes of the contest as the Golden Shield fell 4-2 as the berth in the league final slipped away.
Cambrian master coach Giusseppe Politi wants nothing more than to get back to that point again and is using one word to help inspire his charges this season, which gets underway Saturday.
"The theme for the girls this year is ambition," he said. "That is going to be one of our pillars and what motivates us. It's not good enough to make the playoffs anymore; we are looking to compete for the division and a top two spot to host a home game and get to provincials and see what we can do, so it is an ambitious outlook.
"We are based out of Northern Ontario and we need to play with heart and play with your head and play smart and do that and you can achieve great results."
Indeed, the women's team is loaded with local talent, that in itself a bonus for Politi, who has coached all of them at one point or another during their soccer careers.
"I think when you have a relationship with the players from the club scene, and have watched them grow up, there is a certain comfort there, and also they know the standard here, and the results here have helped with recruiting because they want to do something meaningful," he said. "There's also that base of knowledge, so much stuff I don't have to re-teach there so we can be efficient."
That respect and admiration goes both ways.
"I really like Giusseppe as a coach and 100 per cent he is the reason I am here," said Alexandra Ross, who spent the last two seasons for the Laurentian Voyageurs before joining the Golden Shield for this season. "I like how determined and straight forward he is, and I understand his vision of the game and his coaching style, and I love to follow that as a player. I like his educational background in soccer; he helps you understand everything and the way he says things helps players understand the game and play the way he wants."
Politi said last year's heartbreak will serve as this season's rallying cry.
"A lot of the girls know the expectations and they are coming in with high expectations," he said. "It was just a few years ago where we were just hoping to make the playoffs, now we made the final four and lost in heartbreaking fashion and we want to make up for last year to make that final, and that is the ultimate motivation for me, that game the girls lost in the semi we were so close. The boys were just happy to be in the final four, but we really didn't have a chance to win that game after the result, but the girls, it was a tough pill to swallow, so I hope they are motivated this year to do something special."
Fourth year veteran Courtney Ceccarelli is motivated and expects the rest of the team to be as well.
"I think it is good the bar is set high," she said. "It is motivation and it gives everyone an expectation they have to meet. I think we have an exciting season ahead; we want to go all the way and we have high expectations for ourselves and so does Giusseppe, so I hope we perform and have a great year."
Ceccarelli said the familiarity among the team members, whether they have suited up for the Golden Shield in the past or not, can only help the team.
"We have a lot of new faces, but a lot of local talent that has played together with one team or another, and we seem to have some offensive talent this year and that is something we usually struggle with," she said. "Everyone knows the success we have had in the past and everyone wants to go for it this year. It is a huge step up in the league, but I think it will be an easy jump for them because we get along so well. It's exciting to have so many local girls, and it will be nice to have the stands packed as well."
Ross is hopeful for a long playoff run.
"We have a lot of talent and I think as camp continues we will mesh more as a team and we have lots of potential and I am really excited about the season," she said. "I hope to go further and make provincials and go all the way, and I believe with the spirit and talent and skill we have, and with the experience I can bring from Laurentian, I think we can excel."