By Ned Bekavac
While 32 countries are shooting for soccer glory starting today at the World Cup in Brazil, the city of Guelph already has its prized soccer champions.
On Saturday in Collingwood, the Bishop Macdonell Celtics girls soccer team won OFSAA AA gold and became the first Guelph school in almost two decades to reach the top of the provincial mountain in the sport.
Emotions poured out after the win.
“There were tears of joy, happiness . . . and relief,” says Celtics coach Phil DiNucci.
“It was amazing,” says Reighan Pflug, a striker and midfielder for the team.
The last OFSAA win for a city school in soccer was in 1996, when St. James struck gold at the A/AA girls championships.
That was also the year some veteran players on this Celtics squad were born.
Bishop Mac not only won the District 10, CWOSSA AA and OFSAA AA titles, they did it with exclamation marks – the squad didn’t lose a single game along the way.
The Celtics this season had 20 wins, no losses and one draw on the pitch in District 10, CWOSSA and provincial play. They scored a whopping 88 goals while conceding just seven.
Things got off to a tough start for them this year though.
On the first day of the season, Adele Valeriote, the team’s leading scorer last season, broke her ankle during a game against the Centennial Spartans and was sidelined for the rest of the campaign.
“It was devastating, but she remained positive,” said DiNucci, who coaches the Celtics along with Natalie Downey.
Valeriote still showed up to the team’s games and practices – and did so in a wheelchair in the early times that followed the injury, the coach said.
And of course, she was there when the team tasted provincial glory on the weekend.
“It was emotional, bittersweet in many ways,” says DiNucci, of the win for Valeriote, adding that she was as big a part of this championship team as anyone else.
The coach also says that the players who have come and gone to and from the Celtics over the years have all helped this year’s team get to the top, and contributed to the program’s consistent success.
The win “is an accomplishment for all of them (who have played here) and have helped build the culture,” he said.
In the OFSAA finals against Belle River high school, the Celtics found themselves in an unfamiliar spot: They were losing 1-0, and in the second half no less.
But they didn’t panic.
“We were a little discouraged,” said Pflug.
“But we just knew that we had to keep working, and when we scored that first goal (Pflug tied the game 1-1), the energy just picked up.”
The locals would score two more times for a 3-1 victory, and the party was on.
In the semifinals at OFSAA, the Celtics got past St. Mary’s of Sault Ste. Marie 2-1 in penalty kicks. Bishop Mac was a perfect 5-for-5 from the spot, and a save by goalie Tianna Sullivan booked their spot in the finals.
The win in penalty kicks was a refreshing one for them; the Celtics were eliminated from gold-medal contention at the last two OFSAA tournaments via penalties. (The team bounced back from a penalty-kicks semifinal loss at OFSAA last year to win the tournament’s bronze medal.)
“It’s been an achilles heel for us, but we had a lot of confidence,” said DiNucci, on entering nail-biting spot kicks yet again.
A particularly exciting – and stressful – day for a handful of the players this season was May 30.
That was not only the day of the CWOSSA AA semifinals and finals in Delhi, it was also prom day for Bishop Macdonell high school.
The players attending prom were planning to boot back from Delhi and trade in their athletic duds for a more dapper, glamorous look.
This after playing some key soccer games earlier in the day.
“We were dead (tired),” said Pflug with a laugh, adding that some prom photos were missed because the players were running late. “We had to rush back to get ready, do our hair, make-up . . . ”
Prom is a huge day on many high school calendars, but the players were committed to doing their footy duty first. They wanted to make sure business was taken care of in the CWOSSA finals before heading to prom.
“This really speaks to the character of the girls,” said DiNucci.
The Celtics will be honoured at City Hall at an upcoming council meeting. The tentative date is July 28, DiNucci said.
• • •
Three departing Celtics soccer players have committed to post-secondary teams in a couple of different sports. They are:
• Reighan Pflug: St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J,, for soccer.
• Kerrie Sullivan: Western University in London, Ont. for soccer.
• Olivia Lane: University of Guelph for field hockey.
• • •
This memorable season could be the final one for DiNucci as coach of the Bishop Macdonell Celtics.
“It might be my last year, we’ll see,” he said.
The longtime Celtics skipper continued to coach this season after making a move from being a teacher at Bishop Macdonell, to vice principal at Our Lady of Lourdes high school.