With the OCAA soccer season set to begin Sunday, Centennial College is looking to end its lengthy playoff drought.
Both the men’s and women’s varsity teams have taken strides to get better this year, and will make their final cuts following their last pre-season friendly matches, this Friday at Progress Campus in Scarborough.
Both clubs are coming off of disappointing seasons and will take on the Redeemer College Royals looking to solidify their starting line-ups, and build team chemistry as they gear up for opening night.
“[An exhibition game] provides us a chance to form bonds, but more importantly it helps me determine positions,” says Diarmuid O’Connor, who has coached the women’s team for two seasons. “For us this game is still a try-out.”
The Lady Colts finished the 2009-10 season 2-7-2, and are building towards a brighter future, while the men’s team will come into the campaign searching for drastic improvements, after going 0-10-1, and recording the second worst record in the province.
“We can’t be as bad as we are last year,” says Julian Carr, men’s coach for four seasons. “Tomorrow will be about selecting the team. The confirmed starters will only play 15-to-20 minutes, and the rest of the game will show us who’s really ready to play at this level.”
Redeemer represents a fitting opponent for both teams. Neither of the Royals men’s or women’s team (3-7-2, and 3-5-4 last season) made the playoffs, but were just on the cusp.
That’s where Centennial hopes to be positioned down the stretch this season, as the post-season will be the goal of both Colts clubs.
“I think we can win 4 to 5 games this year, if we go .500 I’ll be happy,” says Carr. “I’m sick of watching all those other teams play in the playoffs.”
The Lady Colts are optimistic of reaching the plateau as well.
“You’ve got your four powerhouses in the East… Durham, Seneca, Algonquin, and Fleming,” says O’Connor. “But after that, the rest of the teams [five teams] fighting for those final two spots all have a chance.”
O’Connor, who also coaches women’s indoor soccer in the Spring, stayed in contact with several of his players this summer and helped spearhead a longer pre-season schedule, to better prepare his team.
“Well we have about seven returnees from last year, all of whom played on my indoor team as well,” says O’Connor. “We were able to start practicing in August, instead of [traditionally starting] one week ahead. We named two captains, and the players got to know each other and fit into leadership roles early on.”
Coach Carr also began forming his team this summer, putting his players through a rigorous four week training program in August that included friendly matches against strong CIS level opponents such as Laurier, Guelph, and Brock University.
“The key is hard work and preparation,” says Carr. “I’m likely to have 12 or 13 new guys this year, simply because so many of last year’s guys showed up out of shape. You’ve got prepare your body just like anything else and it doesn’t happen overnight. ”
Although Carr admitted his many changes might mean the team takes longer to mesh, he is confident in returning goalkeeper Philip Liscio, as well as newly appointed captain Eric Hechararria, a third year veteran.
“Eric has become one of our better players, and is really taking an active role on and off the field,” says Carr. “And Phillip has improved a great deal over the summer, and looked good in every exhibition game we played.”
One problem both coaches alluded to in terms of building team chemistry was the transient nature of community college.
“A University coach knows when he has a player for three or four years, I’m not sure sometimes if my players are going to be there next year, or half a year or what,” says Carr.
He also mentioned a constant flow of players who have aspirations of the NCAA, professional soccer, or other careers, looking for a spot while not taking the team seriously enough.
“Some guys don’t want to show up to practice or train hard because they think they’re too good for the team,” says Carr. “I want players that are ready to work.”
For the Lady Colts, it hasn’t been the attitude of athletes showing up, but the numbers. During warm-up games with opponents such as the Ajax Colts, and now Redeemer, the women’s team has had problems filling the remaining holes on the roster.
“I think it’s just because girls are more modest, and some don’t think their good enough to play” says O’Connor. “Either that they simply haven’t heard about the team, but we need more girls contacting me and trying-out.”
O’Connor assured there were enough players to start the season, but he could use more bodies to play some role on the team during the 11-game season.
Only time will tell if the extra preparation pays off Centennial soccer, but one thing is for certain there is a lot more optimism heading into the 2010-2011 season.