Caper women's soccer program remains focused despite cancelled season
Local student-athletes start mini-training sessions on campus
by Corey LeBlanc
CAPTION: Cape Breton University (CBU) women's soccer student-athletes Abby MacNeil (second, left), Caleigh MacPherson, Tessa Dowie and Maddie Coleman are ready to head out to their home turf at the Cape Breton Health and Wellness Centre on the Sydney campus for a mini-practice with assistant coach Chad Power Sept. 24. The local players will be participating in twice-weekly sessions over the coming weeks. COREY LEBLANC
It may not have been at its usual level for this time of year, but there was a lot of energy – something that hasn't been experienced for a while – on this evening in the campus locker room of the Cape Breton University (CBU) Capers women's soccer team.
Five student-athletes with the perennial contenders, along with long-time assistant coach Chad Power, were readying to take the pitch on their home turf at the Cape Breton Health and Wellness Facility for a mini practice - the first of what is scheduled to be twice-weekly sessions over the coming weeks.
Usually, on an evening like this in late September, the home base for the team – a room decorated with the familiar orange and green Caper athletics' colours, along with photos of All-Canadian players who helped build the foundation of the highly-respected program – is a beehive of activity.
But, on this occasion, because of the cancellation of the Atlantic University (AUS) regular season due to the continuing Covid-19 global pandemic – and the move to solely online learning for the fall semester at CBU, things are different.
Nevertheless, these players - who live in the area of the Sydney campus – are excited about having the opportunity to get back on the pitch, albeit with limitations, to work on their fitness and skill development.
"It has been a long time since we were on the field," Tessa Dowie, who is her second season with the program, says.
Amy Lynch, a Caper for three years, laughs as she notes she was dressed for the session more than an hour before heading to campus.
"I am really ready to go," she says.
A smile crosses Abby MacNeil's face, when asked about having this opportunity.
"I am looking forward to it," the first-year player from New Waterford says about getting on the field.
While everyone wears masks – and sits at a safe social distance – Power outlines the goal of the sessions.
"We want to capitalize on this opportunity," he explains of having the chance to work on skills and fitness.
Although it is not possible to tackle "bigger team concepts" with only a handful of players participating, as Power notes, that doesn't mean the entire roster cannot benefit.
The plan is to share videos of some of the sessions with their teammates, who are not only located across Canada but also dotted around the world.
"It is great to be back," Maddie Coleman, a second-year player from Sydney, says.
Noting the safety and health of the student-athletes is the #1 priority Power says the Capers are "getting going cautiously," when it comes to the Tuesday and Thursday evening gatherings.
In an earlier phone conversation on that day, veteran head coach Stephen 'Ness' Timmons agrees.
"It is going to be good for us," he says of what he describes as "reduced sessions."
Timmons adds the video-sharing component is another way in which the Caper players – near and far – can "keep connected."
With traditional summer club seasons wiped out due to the pandemic, Caper players haven't experienced any soccer activity since wrapping up the 2019 season last November at the U Sports national championship tournament.
"I can't remember when I didn't play in the summer," second-year player Caleigh MacPherson of Lingan says.
In keeping with the proverb – when life gives you lemons, make lemonade – the Caper coaches and players have decided to take advantage of the time provided by a lost conference campaign to improve in any way that they can, with an eye towards contending for an AUS title next fall and hosting the national title tournament in 2021, something they were set to do this season.
"We all miss it," Power admits, noting the Capers would be – if this season was taking place as scheduled – coming off a weekend road trip to Fredericton for matches versus the UNB Reds.
These mini practices, he and the players agree, will help fill some of the voids.
Dowie says it has been challenging not having much – if any – contact with teammates and coaches.
"At this time of year, we are usually together every day," Lynch notes.
Even on weekends, whether they are playing at home, or hitting the road for matches.
"It has been weird," she says of note have that usual togetherness.
Along with helping each other remain physically fit – while maintaining and improving their skill set – the Caper student-athletes note they and their coaches are making sure to monitor each other's mental health, considering one of the products of the continuing pandemic is isolation.
The Capers may be separated geographically, but that doesn't mean they are not constantly in touch. Through measures, such as Zoom calls and – of course, texting and other forms of social media – the teammates are maintaining contact.
Although they are not practicing together or playing matches, the focus is on reminding everyone – no matter where they are – that they remain 'part of the team.'
Even though the program continues to focus on moving forward, having the season wiped out continues to sting.
"I think we all kind of knew," Dowie says of their lack of surprise with the AUS decision to shelve the conference campaign.
Coleman notes the Capers were "hoping for the best."
Lynch adds everyone "understands why" the season was cancelled.
Timmons says "disappointment would be the big word," when it comes to their reaction to the decision.
He notes his players were "well into [off-season] training," including starting their summer regimen when word came down of the cancellation.
Timmons explains the program "started the dialogue early," when it came to how they were going to tackle the year, one without match play.
He notes his student-athletes have been doing "whatever they can," either individually or as a group, to stay engaged.
Despite the unprecedented situation they are dealing with, Timmons says his players continue the work required to be "ready to go."
"We are blessed to have a great and focused group of players," he adds.
Before heading out on the turf for that first mini practice, Power set the tone
"You are going to work hard," he says.