By Chris Chipello
The soccer Martlets enjoyed an outstanding season last fall – until it came to an abrupt end with their first defeat of the campaign, a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Université Laval in a Quebec University Soccer League semifinal at Molson Stadium.
A win would have enabled the team to achieve its goal of participating in the Canadian national championships and set the stage for next fall, when McGill will host the CIS women’s soccer tournament.
The semifinals loss “was a major disappointment,” said Marc Mounicot, head coach since 1998. “It cost us the experience of [playing in] a national championship.” Some 50 per cent of the players are in their first year on the squad, and “they need to experience big games, playing the best teams in the country” so as “not to be too surprised by the level of certain teams” at the national level.
Four games into their seven-game indoor season, the Martlets appear to be back on track and looking ahead, as they develop the players and work on cohesion of the group. The team has won three of its games and tied the other.
“Home” games during the winter are played at Montreal’s Centre Marie-Victorin, where the indoor turf facilities are big enough to accommodate 11-a-side games. But practices take place on the rubberized surface of Tomlinson Fieldhouse, where Mounicot and his staff put the group through intensive one-hour technical exercises and physical drills twice a week. The players also put in two or three gym sessions a week, involving weights, plyometrics and spinning – taking only Saturdays off before Sunday games. Even at that, the routine represents a step back from the seven-day-a-week regimen of the outdoor season.
At a recent practice, the 18 players break into smaller groups for fast-paced games of keep-away, monitored by Mounicot and Assistant Coach Jose-Luis Valdes. Along the sidelines, another assistant coach, Catherine Lumsden – a former player who teaches at Selwyn House – puts several players at a time through agility and speed drills. Later, as the practice wraps up with a full-court game, goalie coach Hamed Mahmoudi keeps a watchful eye on his charges.
It’s a demanding schedule for the players, but the student athletes, recruited from high-level programs, and appear well prepared to handle the work load. “You have to be disciplined,” said Alexandra Morin-Boucher, a 2010 all-Canadian forward from St-Gabriel-de-Brandon, Quebec. Now in her third year on the team, the physical education major said she chose McGill because of its “good soccer program – and to learn English.”
The team will hold its recruiting weekend at the end of February, inviting 12 to 15 girls who may be candidates for five spots on the team next year. “We should see some strong players that I saw play over the past year,” Mounicot said. The visitors stay in student residences or apartments with team members, discover the campus and participate in team activities. The experience gives them a good sense of the program, and enables Mounicot to gauge how they might fit into the team.
“We’ll try to complete a good, strong roster with some good additions … to have the strongest team possible for 2011 season.”
Voted Quebec conference Coach of the Year four times and CIS Coach of the Year in 2009, Mounicot has led McGill to eight Quebec titles and four medals in eight appearances at the CIS national championships. The native of France earned his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Bordeaux in 1985, and later a Master’s degree in sports psychology at McGill, where he captained the Redmen to the CIS national championship in 1997. In 1998, at the age of 34, he won the Forbes trophy as McGill’s male athlete of the year. That same year, he was named coach of the Martlets.
Coaching – particularly on the women’s side – required some adjustments, he said. “The men’s game is much more related to performance. The women’s game is really related to social connection, and the pleasure of being part of a group – and later trying to achieve some goals. A main motivation for girls is to be part of a team. For guys, you’re part of the team to win.”
In recruiting girls, “I know players will be looking for the social connection,” Mounicot said. “I’m looking really for girls who have some kind of competitive edge – and are not scared to mention it.”