Graham Kennedy, head soccer coach for both the men’s and women’s varsity teams is optimistic about this upcoming season, with players new and old showing talent and potential, as the university soccer season begins.
With a handful of key senior players returning, and a group of talented young players joining the team, the X-Men have a very talented roster, going into the 2018 season, Kennedy said, adding, “it’s a team that’s being built on the back of a very successful 2017 team.”
Kennedy sees this season’s team as one that has “a really strong culture,” and one “that is happy to work together.”
He said the enthusiasm and cohesiveness is combined with a technical acumen among some of the experienced players in “kind of a mix.”
Kennedy said, “we’ve got some really established players – seniors like Dan Hayfield and Liam Elbourne, who will be complemented and pushed by incoming first and second year players.”
Those first and second year players include the likes of Lewis Dye, Ayoub Al Arabi, Jack Kennedy and Jordan Rao.
Kennedy hopes to improve upon the 2017 season – the season that had a single loss during the regular season. A disappointing semifinal loss to University of New Brunswick (UNB) Varsity Reds, a game that “statistically, we should have one,” Kennedy noted, was the only real blemish on the previous season.
“When I look at what we’ve got, we’ve added some really good talent to the recruiting crop from the past year,” Kennedy said. “Top to bottom, freshman to seniors, and fifth-year players – we have a really good balance in every area of the field.”
This year, Kennedy said training will focus on what he anticipates the team’s major improvement area to be; pressing play.
Kennedy said, “our high-pressure, high-defense and skills related to individual defending, and working together as a unit to win the ball back when we lose it,” will be areas of particular focus.
Going into this season, Kennedy is anticipating games against Cape Breton University (CBU) Capers – defending national champions – and UNB to be challenging.
“I think there’s a bit of variability from year-to-year in the league. It’s important for us to study those teams when we do play,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy used CBU as an example, noting the X-Men could possibly end up playing CBU four times this year, between pre-season, two regular season games and the playoffs.
“I like the idea of playing them four times, because we have the opportunity to test them in different ways and find out what works and what we think works,” Kennedy said. “When we do play them in the playoffs, we’ll have gathered enough intel and will be familiar enough with them that we can develop a strategy or tactic that will help us.”
The X-Men will have the opportunity to begin gauging their CBU opponents at a Sept. 1 exhibition game in Guysborough, along with a game against the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus on Sept. 8 and the UNB Varsity Reds on Sept. 9.
This year, Kennedy is very optimistic about what awaits the X-Women, as they prepare to face league powerhouses, such as CBU, Dalhousie, Memorial and Acadia.
He noted the women’s league will be an exciting and unpredictable one, with a lot of talented teams and players making for a well-balanced season, featuring games that shouldn’t be missed, and a championship that anyone could take.
“I think we have the belief we can win. I think we’re a better team,” Kennedy said. “I like the core of our team – we have focus.”
“We were a very good team two years ago, when we won the championship, and I think this team is in the same vicinity as that team, in terms of our ability and potential.”
Some of that potential is manifested in virtuosic soccer skills of Mercy Myles, a third year X-Woman, and star player who has a litany of distinctions as an athlete – from captaining the Ghanaian national under-20 team, to playing in three Youth Cups.
“(Myles) is an absolute star, and arguably could be the best player in the country, in women’s soccer,” Kennedy said, noting her technical ability and insight into how things work on the field, “are at a different level.”
This season, the X-Women will see a great deal of senior talent in their ranks, with Katlyn Walsh returning for her fifth year, after graduating two years ago, and playing with the Dalhousie Agricultural College team last year.
“(Walsh) brings back some experience and leadership,” Kennedy said.
Other fifth year players bringing experience and leadership to the team include Chloe Brennan, Amy Rowe, Rachel Hawkins, Kelsey Ellis and Olivia Czipf, “who not only bring experience, they are more battle-ready than the others,” Kennedy said.
With significant playing time in their careers, Kennedy said those seniors are going to be a solid core for a competitive, effective team he believes will make a name for itself in the league.
Kennedy is excited to see the X-Women go up against Acadia, a perennial powerhouse, as well as UNB, another consistently strong team in the women’s league.
“There are at least five teams that have a legitimate chance of winning, and I think we’re one of them,” he said.
Kennedy intends to hone that potential and build on that opportunity by focusing on penetration in the attacking third of the field.
“We’re a team that is really strong in the middle third. We’re strong coming out of the back,” Kennedy said. “Our next step in that evolution is to create more scoring opportunities and getting the ball behind the opposition defense on a consistent basis. We’re looking to be more direct in our play.”
This focus on offensive play will be put on display in the X-Women’s next game, an exhibition contest against CBU, at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex in Guysborough, on Sept. 1.