"Road to the OUA" begins with 'friendlies' against Laurentian and Nipissing.
SAULT STE. MARIE - The Algoma University Thunderbirds Athletics program kicked off their "Road to the OUA" campaign with two exhibition matches against Northern Ontario rivals Laurentian University on Monday, and Nipissing University on Tuesday.
Although both matches resulted in losses (7-0 and 8-0 respectively), Coach Bill Howe was enthusiastic about his team's play and the lessons learned from the trip.
"The outcome of the games was not important," said Howe of the matches. "Many of our players have been training over the summer and were anxious to assess university competition. I looked at these games as a chance to build excitement, do some assessment and gain experience."
Having only fielded club soccer teams in the past, Howe understands the challenge ahead of him. Nipissing Coach David Bitonti admitted to Howe that when his soccer program started over ten years ago, they lost their first exhibition game against Guelph by a score of 16-0.
This will be a significant step up for most of the Algoma U squad, as they will be competing against national level players in the OUA (Ontario University Athletics).
The team will begin official play in the OUA in the fall of 2014.
"We have two years to build the program" said Howe. "It is a daunting task to put a program together in the top university soccer league in Canada."
Howe is optimistic that competing in the OUA will keep many Sault Ste. Marie players at home, and bring talent from across the province, if not the country.
"Everyone hears about US scholarships, unfortunately few locally know about the OUA. Scholarships and bursaries make Canadian Universities a great choice. In addition to saving some money by staying at home, student athletes have the opportunity to play in front of family and friends."
Algoma is working with the Sault United Soccer Club (SUSC) Academy in town to help develop young players to play at the post-secondary level.
A new "Jr. Thunderbirds" program for high school players is underway this fall.
It is open to all students, no matter which post-secondary school they plan to attend.
For more information, visit www.saultunitedfc.net.
Despite the scores, Howe was very impressed with his team's effort.
"We went down with a short bench and our girls gave a tremendous effort, not quitting in the face of very tough competition. In back to back games against talented teams with depth, it was a superb performance."
Nervous about his team's reaction to the lopsided contests, Howe wanted to assess the character of the players and see how they would handle the adversity.
On the bus ride home, he asked how many of the women still wanted to play in the OUA.
"The response was overwhelmingly positive," he said. "If anything, they were even more committed than they were before the trip."About Algoma University
Algoma University offers a wide variety of liberal arts and sciences degree options including programs in Psychology, Computer Science, Business Administration, Fine Arts, Community Economic and Social Development, and Biology in Sault Ste. Marie, Brampton, Timmins and St. Thomas.
As a partner with Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, Algoma U is committed to respecting Anishinaabe knowledge and culture.
Algoma University has launched its Essential Elements Campaign to expand its campus and offer more scholarships and awards to students.
To learn more, visit www.algomau.ca.
Thunderbirds captain Chelsea Sabourin
battles for the ball against a Nipissing defender.