Veteran Eagles advance to SOSSA
As the Grimsby Eagles put the finishing touches on a 4-0 victory over the visiting Holy Cross Raiders in the Zone 4 AA girls soccer final Monday, Grimsby coach Erika Smith reminded her team what was at stake.
“We have to take this ride as far as we can this year,” Smith said, referring to the veteran composition of her squad
Smith was ecstatic when the game ended.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “It’s my first time going to SOSSA (Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association championships) as a coach and it’s a great group of girls. We have a very senior-heavy team this year and we will have to build up our team for next year again.”
Smith had a sense early on in the season that her team was heading to SOSSA.
“They have such busy schedules because almost all of them play competitively so it was hard to practise a lot,” she said. “But they’ve come together on the field and the field is where they have made the magic happen.”
One player who won’t be lost to graduation is Grade 11 defender Kara Thomas, who came over to Grimsby when South Lincoln closed. She has quickly become a valuable member of the Eagles.
“She has been dynamite on defence and has really had our back,” Smith said. “She is aggressive, she’s willing to help out and switch over if the ball gets into the middle. She sees the field well, she moves the ball up the wing and she doesn’t quit.”
The 17-year-old Thomas had to make some adjustments coming over from South Lincoln.
“Last year, we didn’t play in the actual league,” the Grade 11 student said. “We played for fun and this year was quite the step up, but it was lots of fun and the girls were great.”
It took her a while before she was comfortable on the field.
“It did take some time but once I did, it made it so much fun.”
Thomas describes her style as defensive and credits her soccer skills to a background of playing goalie with the Flamborough Falcons midget AA hockey team.
“I like to keep the ball out rather than put the ball in,” she said.
Her training as a hockey goalie helps on the soccer field.
“Playing goalie and playing the ball defensively in soccer, you get used to the positioning,” Thomas said. “You get used to angling people off and it really helps.”
Teagan Dubiel, Aria Heil, Brianna Kool and Paige Epp scored for Grimsby in the win and Alyssa Abernot recorded the shutout.
The Eagles went 3-0-3 in Niagara Region High School Athletic Association regular season play before defeating Eden 1-0 in the semifinals and first-place Sir Winston 2-1 Churchill in the finals.
“They have really come together and it’s a great group,” Smith said.
The Eagles will have to continue to play their game to be successful at SOSSA.
“We need to continue to play our passing game because as soon as we try to kick and run and try to take advantage of a team, then we start to fall apart,” Smith said.
Holy Cross went 1-5-1 in Niagara Catholic Athletic Association regular season action, but upset the St. Francis Phoenix to 2-0 to earn a trip to the Zone 4 AA final.
“It was a decent season with a lot of ups and downs through a lot of it,” Holy Cross coach Jim Craig said. “Overall, we feel we are moving in the right direction.”
“I like the youth on the team and, at times, they bought in to what we were saying and other times their youth became apparent.”
But still Craig found plenty to like.
“They are skilled enough, they’re decent soccer players and when they follow the game plan, they can do really well.”
The Raiders will only lose four players to graduation and this year’s crop of eight Grade 9 players gained valuable experience.
“I know there are a couple more in our school in Grade 9 and I am hoping to convince them that soccer is the way to go,” Craig said.
Both teams had to go through 34 Celsius conditions Monday.
“I told them it wasn’t their first rodeo because they all have played in soccer tournaments where it is this hot,” Craig said. “We tried to use our bench and spot people 15 minutes here and 10 minutes there trying to keep them as fresh as we could.
“Other kids just had to push through it.”