By Ottawa Sportspage, For Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
They became history-makers as Eastern Ontario’s first-ever national soccer champions at the top youth level, and now the pioneering generation from Ottawa TFC’s Girls’ Academy are setting the bar high again.
All nine players graduating from the 3-year-old Academy have committed to playing varsity soccer at Canadian universities.
“It’s a really exciting milestone, especially because these are all long-term club players who have gone through the program since as long as I can remember,” highlights Ottawa TFC General Manager Pavel Cancura. “It’s so important that the younger ones look up to them, train next to them and with them, and see that it pays off, that they are moving on.”
The University of Ottawa is the top choice of destination for Ottawa TFC products, with Chanelle Chaput, Veronique Bolduc and Katie Brzozowski set to join the Gee-Gees.
For Brzozowski, one of the team’s captains, the goal of one day dressing for the Gee-Gees was established as a 12-year-old attending soccer camp at uOttawa.
“When I was young, I was like, ‘It’d be cool if I was able to come play here when I’m older,’ but it was just a dream – I didn’t know if it was possible back then,” recalls Brzozowski, whose current teammate Kylie Laframboise will switch into an arch-rival with the Carleton Ravens.
Brzozowski’s next aspiration is to get a good amount of playing time as a rookie, and eventually replicate the Gee-Gees’ 2018 Canadian championship.
Cancura expects that his “super aggressive and feisty” centre-midfielder won’t be intimidated by the jump up to university soccer.
“She’s really tough and hard on tackles, and is really combative,” he details. “But also technical and calm enough with the ball, which is a great combination that’s hard to find.”
Brzozowski says Cancura and her other club coaches over the years are the reason she’s still playing. It wasn’t only because she enjoyed the sport itself, she explains, but because the coaches made it fun and competitive.
It’s a view echoed by many other Academy members.
“You can really see that they care for not only us as players but as people, as well,” signals Joelle Chackal, who will head farther south in Ontario to join the McMaster Marauders, similar to Western Mustangs commit Victoria Ufholz.
“They wouldn’t always push us only for soccer,” adds Chackal, a forward who’s consistently recognized as one of the hardest workers at every session. “They understood that we had time for our families, and time to study for school, and they just really supported us in different ways.”
In addition to training every weekday, Chackal valued the Academy coaches’ attention to off-field conditioning, film sessions, and for holding regular one-on-one meetings with players to reflect on their individual development.
Emily Smith – called a “well-respected, unspoken team captain” by Cancura – was appreciative of her coaches’ support when she was figuring out what university she would play for.
“When we were younger, the coaches would have meetings with us and say, ‘Do you need me to help you reach out to a coach, do you need us to help you with anything?’” recalls the future Dalhousie Tiger, who will find Cape Breton-bound teammate Victoria Miller on the opposite side of the ball in Atlantic conference play.
The team went to showcases, and Ottawa TFC would invite university scouts to watch their games, Smith adds.
“I think the thing that differentiates this club and helps the players reach all their goals is the coaches,” underlines the outside defender. “Every single coach in the club cares individually about every single player.”
That sentiment rings true among the group of grads too. Though many are soon headed their separate ways, the players say their bond is for life, cemented of course by their historic 2019 title.
“We’re like family, like sisters,” indicates team captain and Concordia Stingers commit Lauren Curran. “I still get the chills when I think about nationals. I rewatch all our games and always think of what I was feeling in that moment. It’s something that we’ll always look back on and always be proud of.”