Pitch perfect

Undefeated in the regular season last year, the women’s soccer team have their sights set higher for this coming season.

The women’s soccer team at Mohawk College went undefeated in the regular season last year – the first time that’s been done since 1998 – before falling to Durham College 1-0 in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association’s quarterfinals in October.

Ever since, the squad has been focused on reaching the championship this year and on winning regular season games in an even more convincing way.

“We had a lot of close games last year,” says midfielder Paige Epp. “We hope to get some leads in the first half next season.”

Fourteen of the 18 players from last year are returning this year. And the team has ramped up its off-season training regimen, with several cardio and strength-training days in the gym each week, plus games in an indoor league.

“We will be stronger this year. The games that we should win, hopefully they come easier,” said coach Paul Giannini.

“I’ve coached lots of teams and this is a special group of young women. They do everything for the team and make it easy to coach.”

A Hamilton native, he has 20 years of experience in club and league soccer, where he has enjoyed much success.

One of his club teams won a national championship and every player – including Epp – went to Division 1 schools in the U.S. on scholarships.

Giannini was convinced to take the job at Mohawk College when he met Athletics Director Matt Ferreira, who asked him to retool the team under the department’s new high-performance culture.

“I listened to his plans for the department and the soccer team and I decided I wanted to try it. The experience has been fantastic. I love working with the older players. They are motivated and can deliver what you’re asking of them.”

Giannini has focused on recruiting players from degree programs and has particularly zeroed in on Mohawk’s Nursing programs.

“It takes a long time to build the unity of a team and the leadership of student athletes, so four years gives us more time,” he says. “And Nursing students have very good time management and they are committed and focused. They make ideal players.”

Giannini points out that the grade point average necessary to get into the collaborative Mohawk-McMaster Nursing degree program is more than 90 per cent.

“These are young women who work really hard off the field and on the field.”

One of his recruits is Lauren Snider, a recent Practical Nursing graduate who is playing both varsity soccer and basketball. It means a challenging pace, especially September to November when both seasons are running. It means five hours of training and practices a day, followed by a 12-hour placement the next day. On top of that are games, midterms and assignments.

“The best part of playing two sports is I also had double the support from both teams, which makes balancing a lot easier,” says Snider, who has applied for the bridging program to the Mohawk-McMaster Nursing degree program.

If accepted, Snider says she’s looking forward to picking up where the team left off.

“We were undefeated in the regular season of 2022-2023 and with all the talent on the team, I can imagine Mohawk women’s soccer will go even further this year.”

The team plays home games at Tim Hortons Field, making it the only college team to play on a professional field.

“It’s awesome to play at Tim Hortons Field. It steps up your game automatically,” says Epp, who is studying Urban Planning.

And the high-performance varsity model at Mohawk College matches the facilities, say the players.

Centreback Abi Woods, who is team captain, a first team all-star and a Practical Nursing student, says the players and coaches have fully committed to success.

“Each game and practice we are always progressing. Our coaches push us and challenge us and it’s up to us to achieve.”

Epp and goalie Samantha DeHaan both earned nods as Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Athlete of the Week last season.

DeHaan says the demands of her Nursing program sometimes means she has to miss a practice.

“But if I can’t make it, I set aside time to train on my own. Our team never wants to let each other down.”

Epp had decided she wasn’t going to play soccer anymore when she returned from her college in Massachusetts. But Giannini convinced her to put on her cleats for Mohawk.

“It’s a fun but competitive environment here,” she says. “It was the best decision to come back.” Mohawk College logo