High Schools Junior Leagues Soccer

‘This is success’: Five OSU players headed to national development centre in Toronto

By Mark Colley

The Ottawa South United Force under-15 girls have totally dominated their competition over the last three years, with only one defeat in that time period. A 3-0 Ontario Cup opening-round win over Ottawa TFC in early June was the toughest battle the squad has had all year, coach David Fox told the Sports Pages after the match.

And now, five of the team’s players are taking their game to the next level and going to the Ontario Regional Excel Super Centre, where they’ll train as part of Canada Soccer’s women’s national team development program.

Members of OSU’s U15 squad making the full-time move to Vaughan are Kayla Di Tiero, Bianca Hanisch and twins Annabelle and Isabelle Chukwu, along with Ella Kettles, who competes in an older age group for OSU.

Read More: Ottawa’s star soccer sisters dominating Ontario youth ranks

“They need the challenge,” underlined Fox, whose players will compete in the League1 Ontario women’s division once they join Excel, after outscoring their opponents by a combined 91 goals in 15 Ontario Player Development League games last season.

“They need to go to another level, because we can create situations in training, but if you haven’t got that level of competition after awhile, there’s a ceiling to what you can get.”

Isabelle Chukwu (centre) is one of five OSU Force players set to join the Excel program in Toronto. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Fox said the accomplishment was a testament to the work put in by the athletes during COVID-19.

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“This is two and a half years in the making,” Fox said. “It’s not a common thing.”

The logistics of the move are still up in the air. While Hanisch has already moved to join the program, Di Tiero and the Chukwus are joining in August.

Players have different options available to them in Toronto. They can choose to stay with family, friends or teammates in the area, or with a billet family.

Di Tiero and the Chukwu twins said they don’t know their plans yet. Regardless, the move will be a big step in their young careers.

“It’s mixed emotions,” said Di Tiero, who celebrated OPDL league and charity shield crowns with her mates last season. “It’s obviously hard to leave such a great place here and all of your friends and all the people you’ve made connections with, but it’s obviously for the best and you know that you’re gonna make connections with new girls there. And since a lot of them have the same mindset, they’re all driven to be the best, you’re gonna make friendships easily.”

Di Tiero’s goal is to play on the women’s national team and professionally in Europe. Fox said a big strength for Di Tiero is that she “reads the game very well,” although the midfielder was sidelined recently by injury.

“She gets the game. She loves the game,” Fox noted. “She does all the simple things well but she sees what’s beyond in front of her.”

Annabelle Chukwu won last year’s OPDL scoring race with almost three times as many goals as her nearest chaser, with 35 tallies in 15 contests. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Annabelle Chukwu said the success of the under-15 team is a sign of how strong the program is.

“It’s just a testament to what our club’s been doing to be able to produce a lot of people that are going to the next level,” said Annabelle, who earned praise from her coach for her ability to solve problems on the pitch without direction from the sidelines.

With the group moving together, they can continue the competition against each other that they’ve fostered at OSU.

Fox said what makes this group so successful is their commitment to winning. When the team lost their only match in the last three years to Ottawa TFC, the players were determined to not lose again, Fox indicated. So far, they haven’t.

“They want to win, whether it’s in training, 1v1, whether it’s the games at the weekend,” Fox added.

When OSU has road games in the GTA after the players have moved, they’re expected to be able to compete for the Force, who have their eye on potentially becoming the second team to ever win an OPDL title triple crown (league, cup and charity shield championships) – a distinction they didn’t have a chance to chase last year with Ontario Cup play cancelled.

Read More: OSU U17 girls complete historic season with ‘the treble’

Fox anticipates losing more players to Excel next year as well, but he isn’t fazed.

“That’s why we’re here, right?” Fox said. “We can win these leagues and things, [but] this is what we want to do … Success at the end of the day is moving players on.”

With files from Dan Plouffe

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