While without the glitz or glamour of a provincial championship, performing at regionals remains a potentially daunting task. Even more so than at provincials, there's little solace in falling short. The prospect of failure, and a premature end to the season, can be petrifying.
But there's also the knowledge that a team's fate rests in their hands alone, that success books a squad's ticket to the big show. And at that crossroads of regionals, George Brown College (GBC) chose the latter option, as March 5 saw both Huskies sides earn top-two finishes at the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) 'B' Regional, advancing to the 2019 OCAA Indoor Soccer Championships in the process.
On the women's side, GBC posted a 2-1 record on the day. Their road to provincials went through the Confederation Thunderhawks and Centennial Colts, which were defeated by scores of 3-1 and 3-0, respectively. George Brown's lone blemish was a tight 1-0 affair against the host Seneca Sting.
Game one saw the Huskies start their day on the right foot. After a free kick at the top of Confederation's box, Kristen Stellino pounced on the loose ball in the resulting scramble to put GBC on the board early in the first half.
The Thunderhawks would respond with a goal of their own, however Huskies captain Cynthia Pellegrino made sure that George Brown would take a 2-1 lead into half-time. With both possession and quality chances in their favour throughout the match, Nicole McKenzie made sure there would be no second half rally from Confederation, sealing the deal with a 3-1 insurance tally.
"Having multiple attacking players instead of just one is going to be one of our strengths," said McKenzie, noting her side's three different goal-scorers, as well as how her tally was a direct result of the coaches' angle-work emphasis in practice. "Marking the strongest player on a team can be an easy task for other teams to do, but when you've got three, four goal-scorers, we need to use it to our advantage."
Game two proved to be a stiff challenge for George Brown, with the host Seneca Sting dictating much of the first half. Though their defensive mettle was tested, the Huskies entered the second half down only a single goal.
In the face of adversity, rather than fold the tent after half-time, GBC came out with renewed vigour, aggressiveness and tactical adjustments. The result was a second half which saw George Brown and Seneca vie for control, and a 1-0 finish which felt far more evenly contested.
Though the Huskies could hold their heads high after the match against Seneca, the loss did nothing for their provincial chances. If ever there was a question that these Huskies weren't ready to head home, they answered it in game three.
Facing off against the Centennial Colts, George Brown controlled the match from kick-off to the final whistle. The first half saw Stellino pot her second marker of the day with a laser from just inside the top-right of the box, followed by an emphatic, bar-down rocket of a breakaway goal from McKenzie.
WIS | In a game they've controlled from kick-off, your Huskies have a 2-0 lead at halftime vs. Centennial. Goals from Kristen Stellino (4) and Nicole McKenzie (7)!#HuskyNation #OCAAISOC #OCAAWIS pic.twitter.com/A4uNUIVaeS— GBC Athletics & Rec (@GBC_Huskies) March 5, 2019
McKenzie would then place an exclamation point on her earlier statement, adding another goal in the second half for good measure and bringing the match to its eventual 3-0 final score.
"I think we finally are starting to click as a team, we're coming together," said Stellino, who scored both GBC's first tally of the day, as well as the final match's game-winning goal. "We've come so far from outdoor to indoor, the growth has been exponential."
"When we play to our system and we play disciplined, we have a chance against any team," said head coach Leslie Fitzpatrick, who has now followed the outdoor season's crossover match with a second consecutive provincials appearance for the indoor program. "If we turn it into a run and gun type of game and try to freestyle, we'll get beaten."
"Kudos to the girls," the outdoor season's reigning Central Division Coach of the Year continued. "They put in the work, the energy, they stuck together and great for them, we got to provincials again."
With their 2-1 record, the Huskies came second in their 'B' Regional pool of four, and will play in the 2019 OCAA Indoor Soccer Championships on March 21-22, hosted by Humber College at the Ontario Soccer Centre.
Despite their mood being tempered somewhat by a loss in the day's final match, George Brown's men's side joined the women's team in advancing to the 2019 OCAA Indoor Soccer Championships, posting a 3-1 record in their own 'B' Regional pool of five squads.
The Huskies put forward a statement performance in game one against the Seneca Sting. Refusing to be goaded by the hosts into inopportune attacking, George Brown's patient start to the match paid off. Sound positioning led to possession, which in turn saw a two-goal outburst from Anas El-Bogi and 3-0 GBC lead at half-time. Seneca played with expected desperation in the second half, but to no avail, and the Huskies took their 3-0 advantage to the final whistle.
When asked what he was feeling out on the field, El-Bogi provided a clear theme and unifying message.
"Honestly, just hungry," said El-Bogi, who would end the day with five goals in four games to his name. "Hungry to win, hungry for goals, hungry to go forward all the time. But we've got to help out the team in all aspects, offensively, defensively… It's not a one-man job, we all work hard together and that's how we win."
In contrast to game one, George Brown's next match featured some early adversity, against a Confederation Thunderhawks squad which was more than happy to take advantage of a sleepy Huskies start. Unfortunately for the Thunderhawks, that tally awoke GBC from its slumber. George Brown responded to Confederation's quick strike scare with overwhelming offensive pressure, turning much of the game's remainder into a shooting gallery.
Though the Thunderhawks managed a 1-1 tie into half-time, George Brown had started bringing the flood. It just took until the second half for the dam to break, and break it did, as the Huskies scored three unanswered goals on their way to a 4-1 victory.
"After the (Confederation) goal, I think that's our team at our best," said Robert Mijackovic, who scored his squad's fourth goal off a penalty. "We controlled the game after that, and they didn't have many chances.
"Four different goal-scorers, that's great in a four-goal game… we're not relying on one or two guys to win this championship."
Their momentum continued unabated into game three, as GBC put forward a show of complete dominance on their way to an 8-0 result against the Canadore Panthers. However, lopsided victories can be 'trap' games, and in this case, it was a trap that George Brown fell into.
After rolling over the previous two opponents, the Huskies faced a significant competitor in the UTM Eagles come game four. Two early penalties scored took the wind out of GBC's sails, and the squad's recovery came too late, falling 7-1 as a result.
Following the match, Mijackovic spoke about how it was a lesson learned: That the team couldn't get away with subpar play.
There are lessons in defeat. Courtesy of their 3-1 record and second-place finish on the day, George Brown will be able to take their lesson, put it in perspective, and apply it at the provincial championships later this month, where GBC's men's squad will be aiming for gold for the second time in three years, and to medal for the fifth season in a row, having won bronze in 2014-15 and 2015-16, gold in 2016-17 and silver in 2017-18.
Follow @GBC_Huskies on Twitter as your Huskies take on the province's best on March 21-22.