Heads-up! Soccer season set to kick off

Alexandra Morin-Boucher led the soccer Martlets in goals last year with six in 14 game. / Photo: Andrew Dobrowolskyj/McGill Athletics
Alexandra Morin-Boucher led the soccer Martlets in goals last year with six in 14 game. / Photo: Andrew Dobrowolskyj/McGill Athletics

By Jim Hynes

The soccer Martlets and Redmen kick off their respective seasons Thursday night with a stiff challenge as they both host the powerful Université de Montreal Carabins at Molson Stadium. The good news is that both McGill teams are coming off strong pre-seasons that included a number of impressive wins.

Martlets seek redemption

The Martlets begin the 2009 season, the 58th season in team history, ranked 10th in the first CIS Top 10 women’s soccer rankings of the year.

Coach Marc Mounicot’s squad is coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the eight-team Quebec University Soccer League. U de M, ranked second in the nation as the season opens, finished atop the 2008 standings with a 13-1-0 record, followed by Sherbrooke (10-3-1), Laval (9-4-1) and McGill (9-4-1) in the final playoff berth thanks in large part to a five-game winning streak at season’s end. Fifth-place UQAM (6-6-2), followed by UQTR (3-11-0), Concordia (1-11-2) and Bishop’s (1-12-1) failed to qualify for post-season play.

In the playoffs, the Carabins edged McGill 1-0 on Halloween before defeating Sherbrooke 2-0 to capture the league title. The U de M squad went on to finish third at the Nationals.

In the 2009 pre-season, the Martlets played Plattsburgh State University to a scoreless draw, demolished Ryerson 7-0, and dropped a scrimmage at Yale 4-0 before defeating the University of Toronto and Queen’s to take the annual Old Four Tournament August 29-30. They dropped their final pre-season game 4-2 in a highly entertaining match against Williams College.

“We’re definitely a young team with 21 players in either their first or second year, but our objective is to finish among the top two spots in the league and challenge the Carabins for the conference championship,” said  Mounicot, who enters his 12th season as head coach with a 168-51-38 overall record in outdoor play at McGill.

“Hosting the defending champion Carabins in the season opener should be a huge test for us and will determine the technical and tactical challenges ahead. It will give us a good idea of where we stand against them and how far we have to grow to be at their level by season’s end, ” Mounicot said.

Offensively, McGill lost three-time all-star striker Magalie Kolker, who led the team in scoring and was sixth in the conference with six goals and nine points in 14 regular-season games. Other key veterans lost include midfielders Vanessa Salasky (5-3-8), Carolyne Pelletier (3-1-4), Kyrin Dhaliwal (3-1-4) and Sophie Joyal.

The bulk of the scoring this year is expected to come from the feet of sophomore Alexandra Morin-Boucher of St. Gabriel de Brandon, Que., and senior Cristina Di Caprio of Laval, Que. Morin-Boucher tied for the team lead with six goals and was eighth in the league scoring race with eight points. Di Caprio re-joined the team midway through last season after a two-year absence due to injury. She only tallied once in the fall season but found her scoring touch during the second semester with seven goals in the final five games of indoor campaign.

The defence has lost 5-foot-9 veteran Tania Giannone (2-1-3) but will be anchored by a pair of 5-foot-11 returnees — Elizabeth Williams (2-0-2) of Edmonton, who has returned to captain the team in her senior year, and sophomore Katherine Green (0-1-1) of Toronto, who captured conference rookie-of-the-year honours last season.

In goal, 5-foot-8 sophomore Anne-Catherine Huot of Quebec City has returned along with sophomore Shimone Slomowitz, a 5-foot-5 native of West Vancouver.

Mounicot’s coaching staff remains intact with the return of assistants Catherine Lumsden, Jose-Luis Valdes and Andrew Olivieri, a former Redmen star who also played for the Montreal Impact.

Redmen aiming high

The soccer Redmen are looking ahead to bigger things in 2009 after their second place Quebec University Soccer League finish in 2008.  U de M (8-1-3) finished atop the standings, only one point ahead of the upstart Redmen (7-1-4), who tied for the league lead in goals for (25) and posted the second-best defensive record with only 10 goals against in 12 games. Laval (6-3-3) ended up third, followed by Sherbrooke (5-4-3), perched in the final playoff spot. Fifth-place UQAM (4-7-1), UQTR (2-9-1) and last-place Concordia (1-8-3) failed to qualify for the post-season.

Interim head coach David Simon’s squad will be looking to atone for a disappointing 3-1 playoff upset loss to Laval (who later fell 1-0 to the top-ranked Carabins in the league championship game. Montreal and Laval both advanced to the Nationals, where the Carabins finished third overall after a 2-1 overtime victory against Laval). And they’ll be doing it with a veteran lineup.

“The core of the team is the same as last year. We hope to improve on our record from 2008 and qualify for the Nationals in Langley, B.C. The competition in our league will be fierce but speed and experience will be key factors to our success,” said Simon, who has replaced Philippe Eullaffroy, a three-time coach-of-the-year honoree.  Eullaffroy, who will remain involved with the team in an advisory capacity, has taken leave to serve as bench boss with the Trois-Rivières Attak, a professional farm team of the Montreal Impact.

Speaking of the Attak, the Redmen defeated them 1-0 in a pre-season game at Molson Stadium Sept. 3.  Other exhibition wins include a 5-0 scrimmage victory over the Lac St. Louis U18 squad, a 2-1 road win against Southern New Hampshire University, and a  2-1 victory over Toronto in the Old Four tournament. The team’s only losses came in the Old Four final at the hands of Western (2-1) and in a visit to Williams College last weekend (5-1).

The Redmen have lost only four players to graduation, albeit key ones. Gone is captain Jamie Scholefield, a three-time all-star midfielder who shared the team lead in scoring with four goals in a dozen contests last year. Also departed are forward Shawn Amarasekera (2 goals), six-foot defender Omar John, and 6-foot-2 goalkeeper Olivier Boulva, who posted a 7-1-3 record with six shutouts and a 0.75 goals-against average.
The offensive responsibilities will fall to Yohann Capolungo, an explosive sophomore from France who tallied twice last year; Gareth Pugh, a fifth-year senior out of Ottawa who also potted a pair of markers; and alternate captain Eugene Graske, a cagey senior from Germany.

At midfield, newly-elected team captain Thomas Lucas, an all-conference junior from Kirkland, Que., will lead the Redmen. Lucas, who was the league’s rookie of the year in 2007, scored one marker last year and will be counted upon as a solid asset this season. The defence is a pair of conference all-stars — Graeme Tingey of North Vancouver, B.C., and Axel Dovi of Hawkesbury, Ont., both 6-foot-2 juniors, who will anchor the back line. 
In goal, sophomore Jean-Lou Gosselin, a 5-foot-10 ‘keeper from Deux-Montagnes, Que., has transferred from UQAM and is expected to start after sitting out last year.

Coach Simon, a former Redmen player who has been on the coaching staff for the past two years, will be assisted by returning coaches Philippe Lazure and Owen Braun.

With files from Earl Zukerman, McGill Athletics & Recreation