by Randy Pascal
The 2016 women's soccer season holds the potential of being a special one for the Cambrian Golden Shield. For sisters Ashley and Morgan Melnek, the fall campaign could be even more special.
While the pair have remained prominent in the local competitive girls soccer ranks throughout their soccer career, the fact that they are separated in age by some six years has seldom created the opportunity to hit the pitch together.
But after taking a year away from the game, Ashley (24) has returned to Cambrian this fall, joining forces with her sister and fellow Bishop Alexander Carter product, now a freshman with the team at the age of eighteen.
"It was a difficult decision at first," noted Ashley. "I'm in a place in my life where I have full-time employment, but they made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. Not only do I get to take some courses for career development, but I also get to play alongside my sister, which is pretty special."
The siblings share not only a love of soccer and an ability to play the game at a high level, but also a true appreciation for what each other can bring to the field.
"Ashley has always been an inspiration to me," said Morgan. "It's because of her that I wanted to play soccer. I've always admired her passion and competitive nature, watching her play over the years. She plays with such aggression; something that I learned to take in and add to my game."
When it comes to the "Sisters Melnek", the respect is mutual. "I've watched her play, I've watched her grow," said Ashley. "Morgan and I are very different players, but we seem to complement each other that way."
"Where she shines with her great distribution skills and her touch on the ball, I rely more on my aggression, my speed, my physical aspect of the game. Where I saw that she lacked some of these things, I try and instill that in her. She's helped me with my offensive tactics, and I helped her defensively."
And if some family connections appear in name only, bound together solely by virtue of appearing in the same lineup, the Melneks are likely to share more than just special memories, positioned within yards of one another at countless times in a match.
"I'm going to be a center-back, and she's in the midfield, right in front of me, so it's perfect," stated Ashley. "I understand her playing style and she understands mine, so the chemistry is going to be phenomenal."
Little surprise that, once again, the two see eye to eye. "I think we play really well together," said Morgan. "She is very quick in her decision-making, she's very smart. She doesn't just give the ball away or boot it up the field. She looks upfield first and then plays it."
While the young athletes have joined forces in previous indoor winter leagues, both agree that this is different, with Cambrian expecting to push for a provincial medal this year.
"We've never actually had the chance to play at a competitive level, together, to play at a level that really meant something," said Morgan. "This is the year. It would be awesome to make history on a team with my sister."
Ashley can easily relate. An OCAA all-star in 2014 when the Golden Shield crew garnered bronze at the provincial championships, the elder Melnek knows all too well the feeling of breaking new ground for a program that struggled for years.
Understandably, she fully grasps the uniqueness of this opportunity. "I don't know that I would have come back to play if the season didn't look promising," Ashley acknowledged.
"But the team is fantastic, AND my sister is here. Not only can I play with her, but we can accomplish something really special together. That was the biggest motivator for me."