By Dan Plouffe
Locked in a tightly-contested national capital high school senior boys’ soccer city final with the Louis-Riel Rebelles, Paul-Desmarais coach Modeste Nzonou was already wearing a gold medal on the Patriotes’ sidelines.
No, he hadn’t stolen a the victors’ prize preemptively. It was the gold medal he’d earned from his team’s 2021 Tier 1 city championship, but it proved to be prophetic as his Patriotes emerged with a 2-1 triumph on Wednesday at Quinn’s Pointe Field in Barrhaven.
“I believed it could have a contagious effect,” Nzonou explained. “That contagiousness transferred to [Wednesday]. We had that continuity from that last title, and we got that victory. Vive Paul-Desmarais!”
The Patriotes scored both their goals off free kicks. Justice Nguyen got the opening goal with a header and Sébastien Sabourin pounded home what proved to be the game-winner off a rebound. The Rebelles got a goal back as the controlled the second half, but Paul-Desmarais held on to capture the school’s first national capital crown in the top-tier OFSAA ‘AA’ division (for schools with mid-size student populations).
Nzonou said he was “extremely happy” that his team completed an undefeated season with a focused effort in the final.
“I think we deserved it,” he indicated. “We’re very determined at Paul-Desmarais. We follow our values – respect, collaboration and commitment – and this is the fruits of our labour.”
Nzonou added that the school’s specialized sport-études program provides everything his players need to “follow this beautiful adventure” and that they certainly demonstrated their passion for soccer and their school in winning the championship.
“The challenges you face in sport are similar to life in general,” he highlighted. “In life, you’ve always got to shoot high. Our players really committed themselves, they embraced that mentality and they prepared themselves to follow that path to a higher level.”
Though they play their local league in the fall season, it’ll be springtime when the Patriotes will represent the national capital association at the OFSAA ‘AA’ championships June 6-8 in North Bay.
St. Mother Teresa back on top of ‘AAA’, Gloucester back in top tier
It will be a familiar face carrying the national capital banner come the OFSAA ‘AAA’ boys’ soccer championships (for the province’s largest schools) on the same dates in Windsor, though the St. Mother Teresa Titans’ opponents in the city final were a team that had long been absent from the top of the high school soccer scene.
The Gloucester Gators wound up losing the only game of their debut season back at the OFSAA level of competition in the city final as St. Mother Teresa took back the trophy they won in 2021.
The Titans’ Achilles heel in 2022 when they went 2-3-1 and fell 1-0 in the opening round of the playoffs was not scoring goals when they had the chance, noted coach Mike Rowley, but they turned that piece of history on its head in the opening half of their 2023 championship contest.
Against the run of play for roughly the first 10 minutes, St. Mother Teresa scored the opening goal of the contest. Despite getting on the board first, Rowley told his team that they can be better, and in hardly a blink of an eye, the Titans had potted three more goals to build a 4-0 lead. The deficit proved insurmountable for the Gators, who did get two goals back to bring the final score to 4-2.
“Our ability to play together as a team, [the players’] willingness to commit to what we’re trying to do, and our ability to finish” were the Titans’ keys to success in 2023, signalled Rowley. “Last year, we didn’t really finish and this year we are, and that’s made all the difference.”
The Titans are a strong group across the board, their coach added.
“This is the deepest we’ve been in a long time,” Rowley underlined. “Our buzzword is ‘family’.”
Despite missing the title, the city silver represented a huge accomplish nonetheless for the Gators, who jumped up two levels from the Tier 2 division last season.
Coach Laura Killen said the big reason for the Gators’ rise was that many of her players joined club soccer teams, such as the Ottawa-Gloucester Hornets, Mundial FC and AC Fiorentina, for the first time. Many players’ families hadn’t been able to pay club soccer fees before, so up stepped school staff to get them in the game.
“Just seeing the potential in the group, I put it out to the staff at our school, and we have such wonderful, caring individuals who were so eager to step up and donate funds to support players to play,” recounted Killen. “I would say last year, I had a group of ‘street soccer’ players who have now turned competitive as a result. They improved their skills tremendously.”
Killen added that she’s been so thankful to get the opportunity to coach “such a remarkable group of young men” who posted a league-best 5-0-1 regular season record before beating West Carleton and reigning champion John McCrae to reach the playoff final.
“There are a lot of barriers for a lot of our students and players,” she noted. “They are so resilient and have just faced every obstacle with so much determination, perseverance and motivation. And I think it’s definitely fuelled their passion for the game.
“This whole team atmosphere has just been a really wonderful experience for them. They’ve been so supportive of one another throughout the entire season.”
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