By Jenna Adlam
Posed with the difficult decision of choosing between continuing their playing careers south of the border and remaining in the nation’s capital, two of Ottawa’s top graduating soccer players came to a similar conclusion.
Juliann Lacasse and Taylor Dempster will both embark on their post-secondary careers locally, with Lacasse headed to uOttawa next year and Dempster picking Carleton University as her destination.
While neither athlete’s decision was an easy one, there were both shared reasons and differences in why they chose the route they did.
Lacasse had been in talks with some American coaches, but due to financial and mental health reasons, believed it would be best to stay in Canada.
“As cool as it would have been to say that I went and played in the States, my parents and I both think that this is the right decision for me,” said Lacasse.
Lacasse’s soccer career has already taken a winding path. The goalkeeper played for Cumberland United at the club level before joining Ottawa South United. She served in net for the OSU Under-17 girls’ team that made history as the first Ontario Player Development League team to win all three division league titles in a single season. Lacasse transferred to Ottawa TFC (which absorbed Cumberland when it was founded in 2018) for the final season of her youth career.
Lacasse will be graduating from Colonel By S.S. She was recognized as the Cougars’ senior female athlete of the year for 2020, thanks in part to her talents on the volleyball court, which paid off with a city championship last year.
Dempster, who’s played club soccer with West Ottawa and is graduating from Sacred Heart High School, compiled a list of schools she was interested in in Grade 10. Even at that time she had a feeling that playing in the U.S. in the NCAA may not be the right fit for her.
“(The decision) was difficult because society in general just pushes the NCAA,” Dempster said. “It’s like, if you don’t go there then what’re you doing?”
She also felt that there was no need for her to leave Canada because of the improving level of competition in women’s soccer in this country and in Ottawa specifically.
But the list Dempster made in Grade 10 never included Carleton University. Only was she drawn to the Ravens after speaking to the team’s coach. She was hooked after visiting the school and admiring its facilities. She also liked its closeness to home, the academic options it offered, and her soon-to-be teammates, when she met them.
“Everyone was really nice, and they were really hardworking,” Dempster said.
Dempster said she’s most looking forward to playing with older, more experienced teammates, as she’s coming out of six years of playing with roughly the same group of girls.
“It’ll be really nice to have a big group of new faces and new challenges,” Dempster said.
Similarly, Lacasse’s cast of future teammates pushed her in the direction of signing with the Gee-Gees.
“I love the girls and they’re all really accepting,” Lacasse said, recollecting on having the opportunity to train with the team. “I just loved it there and if you don’t love it then what are you doing it for?”
Unlike Dempster, uOttawa had always been one of Lacasse’s top options. It’s where both of her parents and older sister attended university.
Another factor that played into Lacasse’s choice was the chance to reunite with Gee-Gees assistant and goalkeepers coach David Bellemare, who she had worked with before at OSU.
“Having a coach that I’ve had before and bonded with and loved is just something else that’s going to add to it,” she said.
The university’s closeness to home — meaning that’s where she can continue to live — also made uOttawa a favourable landing spot for Lacasse.
“This is my town and to be able to play here with a national-champion team is going to be amazing,” she said.
With bright futures already ahead, both girls are eying even greater soccer goals.
Dempster wants to play pro soccer in Europe someday — with her experience playing in a Gatorade-presented 5v5 tournament in Barcelona driving that dream.
Lacasse hopes to have the opportunity to play in China at next year’s FISU Summer World University Games. She also knows she’ll someday coach soccer, but would love to play professionally if she’s able to. And overall, she hopes to help and inspire other young female soccer players to succeed as well.
“I would have liked to see more women coaches when I was young, so if I could be a woman goalkeeper coach and influence a little girl, then that’s something great,” Lacasse said. “Even if it’s just one girl who sees me playing or coaching and I inspire a few girls, then it will all be worth it.”