By Kieran Heffernan
Anyone involved in team sports will tell you about the importance of team building and unity, but when it comes to the importance individuals play into that bigger picture, Ottawa TFC coach Pavel Cancura couldn’t have talked more highly than he did about Lauren Curran.
“I’m going to talk about (the importance of team building) until the day I die, but sometimes teams are a bit special. And this one was a bit special like that and a lot of it had to do with Lauren,” Cancura said in reference to Ottawa TFC’s U17 women’s team from last year, which won a Canadian title.
Curran, a centre back, was a co-captain on that team, which was the region’s first to win a top youth level crown. She’ll be a captain on this year’s team as well, in whichever shape it is the season takes, before she embarks on the next stage of her soccer journey – competing with the Concordia Stingers.
That journey began early for Curran. She’s played soccer since she was three years old and has been coaching as well since she was 12. Last year’s odds-defying season was notably special, Curran said, because her team’s success was so unexpected.
“We were kind of just happy that we made it to the finals and then I think we started playing and we were like, holy, we’re the better team here. We can win this,” Curran said. “So once the final whistle blew, honestly our team just went crazy.”
She credits a lot of her team’s success to its coaching. Curran and Cancura have known each other since Curran was nine, which has allowed them to develop a strong connection. How she values their bond is part of why she decided to commit to Concordia.
“When Concordia reached out to me, and I had visited the campus and the coaches a couple times, something about it just felt right,” she said. “It felt like home almost and I had a good connection with the coaches, and that was something that’s very important for me because I have a good connection with Pav, my coach right now, and that’s very important to me.”
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Cancura has equally high praise for one of his star pupils.
“She’s become one of the better leaders I’ve ever really come across out of our club,” said Cancura, who coached with Cumberland United for more than a decade before it was folded into the Ottawa TFC partnership almost two years ago.
“She’d be the type of person who would understand that when a team’s nervous they need to laugh. So she would come with a sense of humour to that day and just be a goof with everybody and kind of help ease the tension,” he explained.
Teenagers with good social skills aren’t rare, Cancura said, but with Curran “the rare thing is to be able to influence people in not only a positive direction but a specific direction.”
Curran said she thinks she gained those skills from growing up seeing her older brothers play soccer at a high level (her brother Graeme was the captain of Royal Military College’s team).
At the end of June, Curran will graduate from St. Peter Catholic High School. She’ll be studying exercise science at Concordia, with hopes that she’ll one day become an athletic trainer.
What the Stingers will get with her is a “really, really good defender, (a) very hard tackler, (who) barely ever misses a challenge, (and) is very good in the air winning balls,” according to Cancura.
Over the last few months, Curran says it hasn’t been easy being away from teammates who she’s grown so close with over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of their season and they’ve had to train via Zoom five times a week.
Cancura has been impressed with his team’s ability to take the pandemic in stride.
“They could be pissed and be bitter and frustrated and all kinds of things, and they just pretty seamlessly shifted off,” he said. Some players are even making improvements that may not have happened without the pandemic, since their training now focusses more on strength and running.
Curran said it’s been “mentally tough,” especially for her and her teammates who are graduating this year, but training together helps.
“Just seeing my teammates every single morning on Zoom, even though it’s through a computer, they help you, even when you wake up and you don’t want to train that day. They just help you stay positive. We’re all in it together so it’s good that it’s a good group of girls that I’ve grown up with,” she said.
Until play is allowed to resume, Curran says she and her teammates at least have last year’s season’s memories to hold onto.
“I still get the chills when I think about nationals and I always rewatch all our games and think of what I was feeling in that moment. And it’s something that I’ll always look back on and always be proud of,” she said.