By Dan Plouffe
Sixteen-year-old Olivia Cooke had the first 2-goal game of her young League1 Ontario career on June 9 at Beckwith Park, helping the West Ottawa Warriors past Darby FC 4-1 for their 4th win in the past 5 games.
“We’ve all been working so well and so hard together and I think it’s been showing on the field,” Cooke says. “Playing with and against these top-notch girls, it’s been a really great experience so far, and I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”
Cooke is one of the youngest players competing for Ottawa’s first women’s entry in the league that seeks to act as a bridge between youth soccer and the next level, with many local university/NCAA making it their off-season training ground.
“These were girls I’d be watching play, especially at Carleton and Ottawa U, and now we’re playing together, which is really cool,” adds Cooke, who only previously knew past Ottawa South United clubmate Mollie Eriksson and fellow 16-year-old Carmen Marin out of her current teammates. “It’s an incredible opportunity. League1 is such a professional environment.”
Warriors coach Kristina Kiss says her team is “starting to hit out stride” after a pair of defeats to open the season. It’s key to stockpile points now since the club will lose a number of its university players for the final games of the year, adds Kiss, whose name is conspicuously on the team’s player roster, though she has yet to appear.
“It’s just for the end of the season, in case we need some more players,” smiles the former Team Canada start. “So maybe. Maybe at 36, I’ll make a little bit of a comeback for 10 minutes on the field.”
On the men’s side of League1, Marco Natoli is enjoying a comeback of his own, returning to play high-level soccer for his old youth club, the OSU Force, who are also League1 newcomers.
“It’s really nice to be back because we spent most of our childhood here,” says the former Ontario Youth Soccer League scoring champion who has reunited with many old clubmates across several age levels.
Natoli, who’s played for Algonquin College in recent years, was motivated to join the team by the opportunity to play at the highest level of amateur soccer in Ottawa. He’s also got a bit of unfinished business. Natoli would love to win a provincial title to match some of his younger OSU teammates, having missed out on an Ontario crown by one game in his own last year of youth soccer.
“For sure it’d be great to win this with everybody,” he underlines.