Toronto,ON- Coaching can make or break a team, and for the York Lions’ best stories this year, it made. The Lions women’s soccer and hockey teams gave us some of the best moments, and it is fitting that the two team’s coaches were nominated for the school’s coach of the year award. Let’s take a look at the year that was for those special teams.
Women’s soccer: OUA Champions
It was close, but the Lions women ended the conference season with an OUA gold medal around their necks. They were not dominant in the year but came alive at playoffs. Their leading scorer Kiyani Johnson had 11 goals in 17 games, good for second in the conference, but it was team play that was the key to success. Head coach Carmine Isaaco, who was coaching the men’s team and the Canadian Premier League’s York9 at the same time, helped lead the Lions to a third-place regular-season finish while losing only once.
While Johnson’s scoring and Isacco’s tactics were important, the third-place regular-season finish was far for satisfying. The Lions kicked it up in playoffs, and remember where I said it was close? Yea, it was real close. They opened the postseason with the slimmest win possible, 1-0 over Waterloo, and followed up with a win over Guelph by the same margin. With those two close wins, they qualified for the OUA Final 4 which was hosted by the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
The game against Waterloo was their last at their own Alumni Field, the Guelph game was away, and the final four and U SPORTS Championships were all not at York. They needed a lot of combined resolution through nearly three weeks of away football, and that’s exactly what they got. In Ottawa, they knocked out the Gee-Gees after double overtime and lifted the trophy against their Toronto foes the Varsity Blues with a 2-0 final victory. The Gee-Gees went on to be crowned FISU World Cup champions, meaning the Lions took down the world’s best.
With their OUA banner in toe, the Lions took on the U SPORTS National Championships, in a weekend that provided a massive test to coach Isaaco, who was managing the women in BC and the men in Quebec. At Victoria’s Centennial Stadium, the rubber hit the road- the Lions fell to the Acadia University Axewomen in the quarterfinal, thus ending their season.
Although the year did not end as they had hoped, the nearly undefeated regular season, stingy defence and playoff effort made 2019 an excellent one for the Lions. Isaaco was named the OUA coach of the year and defender Teni Odetoyinbo earned first-team U SPORTS all-star honours.
Women’s Hockey: A Silver Lining
Oh so close. The Lions women’s hockey team who made it to the post-season for the first time in eight years nearly won the McCaw Cup, but in the end, they had to settle for OUA silver medals.
So much that went for the Lions this year. They finished in third in the OUA and worked their way, all the way to the finals. It was a group effort from every member of the team, from their leading scorer, Taylor Davison, to head coach Dan Church, and their revamped analytics team led by Rachel Doerrie, everyone played a roll in the Lions success. The Lions finished the regular season with 14 wins, and even though they weren’t the best in the conference, their improvement throughout the season was what led them to a silver medal and national championship berth.
One of the moments that stood out to me was the resilience the team showed when starting netminder Lauren Dubie went down with an injury near playoffs. It meant that the players who had become confident in front of their netminder had to adjust to playing with Serena Vilde between the pipes. Fortunately, Vilde stood strong and the team stayed confident all the way to the silver medal.
The final did not go the way they wanted, as they fell victim to questionable referring and had one of their possible goals taken back, however, it was the semi-final win against Nipissingthat clinched a spot at the U SPORTS National Championship in Charlottetown.
The Lions never got the chance to hit the ice in Charlottetown, but they did have the pleasure of seeing their OUA final foes fall to Mount Royal in one of the quarter-finals that were played. Although the season ended abruptly, there were a lot of bright spots in 2019-20, many of which will help them take one step further next season.
Individually, there were many honours bestowed upon those in the program. The aforementioned Davison was named to the OUA All-Star team and Erin Locke was awarded the OUA’s Marion Hilliard Award, before being selected in the 2020 NWHL Draft. On the coaching side, Dan Church was nominated for the school’s coach of the year, Daniel Nikandriov was hired by the OJHL’s Milton Menace and Teresa Hutchinson was awarded Hockey Canada’s BFL Female Coach of the Year (High Performance).
Aside from the hockey, the Lions women were the subjects of the OUA’s top sport feature video “Believe,” produced by Kenneth Edwards.
Although basketball and football disappointed, the women’s soccer and hockey teams certainly made up for it, with a pair of U SPORTS national berths, comeback seasons and a pair of coaches who knew how to win.