TORONTO, ON – There’s a winning culture that echoes through the recent history of the uOttawa Gee-Gees women’s soccer program — one that has seen success at the collective individual levels in U SPORTS and beyond.
For Cassandra Provost, the national leading goalscorer in 2022, the winning desire is evident. Yet, the individual honours undoubtedly follow her with the level of goalscoring and attacking prowess showcased at the OUA and national levels.
On the opening weekend, hosting a lesser Trent Excalibur side at home, the Gee-Gees battled to a 5-0 victory yet didn’t win with the same intensity and vigour as they did 13 times in 2022 en route to a U SPORTS bronze medal.
At the same time, Provost and transitional midfielder Nibo Dlamini struggled to consistently link up, with the top scorer unable to start her season with a goal despite playing through the first half.
Yet, less than a minute into uOttawa’s second match of the season, a visit to the Toronto Varsity Blues, Provost dropped back from a central defender, created space for herself and flicked the ball with the back of her head and into the goal.
Of course, the goal came off Dlamini’s cross.
After not scoring in the opener, Provost hit her form on the second week of the season, with two goals in a win over the Varsity Blues, before scoring a hat-trick, with three very different goals against the TMU Bold in a 5-1 victory on Sunday.
A maturing tactical partnership
Throughout the second week of matches, Provost, a third-year, adjusted her attacking approach, dropping into deeper pockets and playing as a near-attacking midfielder or false striker, allowing herself to hold the ball up and distribute or elude her defender.
“I’ve had players on my back since last year, and for things to work out, I need to keep the ball and hold the play a bit more and then lay off to a teammate, and that’s what’s working right now,” she told 49 Sports after the win over U of T.
“Switching the play by [having me] dropping a bit deeper and drawing the defenders out, that’s the solution that might work for us.”
Provost scored 18 OUA goals in 2022, finishing as the national leader in conference play, with UBC’s Danielle Steer behind with 18 in Canada West. However, many of Provost’s goals came from classic target play. In contrast, her adjustments early in 2023 see her harnessing tactical awareness and putting herself in positions to score where she hasn’t been before.
On the weekend, the chemistry between Provost and Dlamini took centre stage once again, yet was adjusted from the previous two seasons the two have spent setting up each other, with a rotating cast of skilled midfielders surrounding.
“Nibo is good to deliver balls into those threatening areas, and she knows me and what I do, and we’ve made those changes this year,” Provost said. “It’s a good connection between us, and we’ve played together for three years now, so that’s some valuable chemistry.”
While the two take on elder leadership of a younger Gee-Gees group, they continue setting the standard while maturing tactically within their partnership, even without Trinity Esprit, Katerine Delev, Olivia Allen, and others who left the program after last season.
“It’s really the teamwork, and it’s mainly trying to get away from my mark and make a lot of movement between defenders. They all know me at this point, so I just have to try new things and make them think twice before defending.”
Domestic professional opportunities loom
Since 2018, and even sometime before, the Gee-Gees have been among the best in Canadian university soccer and have won national titles, medals, OUA titles, FISU Americas titles, and the 2019 FISU University World Cup.
Throughout that time, several players have earned professional contracts overseas, with Emma Lefebve playing in Italy’s top division with Hellas Verona and Sadie Sider-Echeberg testing the waters in France’s top flight, among others.
Yet, for one of Canada’s premier soccer programs, the launch of Project 8, a Canadian professional women’s league in 2025, could be a game changer for top players like Provost.
However, it’s not a focus for now, as the evident winning desire resonates through the Gee-Gees program.
“I don’t really feel any pressure, as long as we win,” Provost said. “But it’s going to be a great opportunity.”