By Dan Plouffe
On the eve of one of their alumni helping Canada’s men’s soccer team to arguably its greatest win ever, the Louis-Riel Rebelles scored a couple big victories of their own. The Rebelles captured the national capital high school boys’ soccer junior and senior championships last week, and then got to celebrate with pizza while watching Jonathan David and Team Canada beat Mexico in World Cup qualifying.
“It’s really great for the kids,” underlines Louis-Riel coach Joé Fournier, the director of the school’s sports-study soccer program. “They progressed really well throughout the season, and they got on a roll by the end when it matters.”
The National Capital Secondary Schools Athletic Association crowned its champion teams for the fall season in recent weeks. The Glebe Gryphons added to their cross-country city championship by earning perfect records en route to boys’ flag rugby and girls’ field hockey titles, while the Nepean Knights topped girls’ flag rugby, and the St. Mark Lions won their first football title since 2007.
Those champion teams were barred from attending their OFSAA provincial championships due to COVID worries, though the ‘AA’-champion Rebelles senior boys – along with the St. Mother Teresa Titans, winners of Ottawa’s ‘AAA’ division for schools with the largest student populations – hope they’ll get a chance to face the best in Ontario since their provincials aren’t until the spring.
Fournier says his team would be very excited for the opportunity to play at OFSAA, and he feels “confident” it will be possible.
“We’ve already had a graduating group that missed both their years of OFSAA, in Grade 11 and Grade 12,” Fournier notes, adding that his current Grade 12s “didn’t get OFSAA last year either, and they would have had an amazing team.”
Fournier says commitment was the major key to success for the Rebelles seniors en route to a 5-win, 1-tie regular season where they allowed just one goal, to the Ashbury Colts, who they later dominated in the ‘AA’ final.
The Rebelles juniors had a rougher ride with a “horrible, horrible” 7-4 loss to Béatrice-Desloges to start the season and then a 3-1 defeat to Gisèle-Lalonde, but then came a big change, their coach recounts.
“They were so, so eager for the first two games, but it was a bit chaotic,” reflects Fournier, whose squad avenged those defeats with 5-1 and 2-0 road wins over BD and GL in the league semi-finals and final, not to mention a 3-1 quarter-final upset victory over St. Joseph, which was a perfect 6-0 up to then.
“That’s how much of a turnaround there was,” Fournier details. “They trusted the process, they trusted each other, and they trusted themselves, and this is what we always talk about.
“‘The most important thing is that you just need to be confident when you have the ball. You need to be confident to trust your teammates, that they will support you, that you can give them the ball, they will help you. And then you have to trust the process, what the coaches are trying to do, what we’re trying to do as a team,’ and that’s what happened.”
The teams toasted to their triumphs with a visit to Boston Pizza to watch the Team Canada match on TV Tuesday evening. After playing 83 minutes and scoring Canada’s lone goal in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica four nights earlier, David didn’t appear for very long in the 2-1 win over Mexico that brought Canada to the top of the Concacaf World Cup qualification standings, but that didn’t seem to damper spirits at all.
“We were singing the national anthem and stuff. It was really, really cool,” signals Fournier, who’s of course loved watching Louis-Riel grad David help pull the Canadian men’s team into a real regional powerhouse.
“You know,” he adds. “I never imagined in my life that I would be sitting in a restaurant with 45 people all gathered for the specific reason of watching the men’s national team of soccer play a World Cup qualifying game on a Tuesday night at 9 p.m. That’s pretty special too.”
‘Kitmas’ fundraiser seeks to add soccer spirit to holidays
There will certainly be a young Ottawa soccer player or two who may find a Team Canada jersey in their stockings with “David” on the back – or “Gilles”, for Vanessa Gilles, the Olympic women’s soccer champ who’s also a Louis-Riel grad – but Fournier and a few local soccer pals are also working to give some gear to kids whose families are unlikely to be able to afford them.
The “Kitmas” initiative is spearheaded locally by the Soccer Snobs Podcast hosts who used to lead the Ottawa Fury Premier Development League program, and branched off an idea by the same name that originated in England.
They are collecting donations – cash and gently-used soccer items – in time to distribute this holiday season.
“When a kid has a uniform, they feel a connection to the beautiful game,” Fournier explains. “If someone gives me a kit of a club, I get all excited, and I’m 48 years old. That’s the feeling we want to give to those kids.”
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