The title defence for the Gee-Gees women's soccer team kicks-off this weekend with a trip to Oshawa to take on Ontario Tech on Saturday at 12 p.m. The team will then return to Ottawa for a home opener against Carleton on Wednesday night — featuring the unveiling of the 2018 U SPORTS National Championship banner.
Following an extensive training camp featuring a 5-1 victory in exhibition play over the University of New Brunswick, along with other scrimmages. Gee-Gees head coach Steve Johnson has been impressed with the effort from his squad.
"The team has had a really successful training camp, really impressed with their performances in the exhibition game against UNB and the other scrimmages," Johnson said. "We were good defensively, scored a lot of goals, and the rookies have adapted to our style of play."
As reigning national champions, the team expects to have a target on their back all season long.
"I do think we will be the team everyone wants to beat, who doesn't want to beat a national champion," said Mikayla Morton, a fourth-year forward in her second year on the team. "That will fuel us to play harder every game, not to take certain games easy, work extra hard."
Team chemistry was a key component of the 2018 champions, something the veterans will look to carry forward into the new season.
"We have to make sure we have the same chemistry on and off the field that we did last year," said Morton. "Our team was extremely close last year, so I'm hoping there's enough veterans on the team to repeat that as well so the rookies blend in as well as last year."
"As a team, our main goal is to have the great team chemistry we had last year," Fifth-year keeper Margot Shore added. "We haven't really set a goal like repeating as national champions, I think what helped us last year was we were humble.
"We took things one step at a time, not thinking ahead to November in August. If we can be consistent and win one week at a time, that will be a good goal for us."
OUA First Team All-Stars Miranda Smith and Kayla Da Costa-Pacheco, along with forwards Delaney Rickert-Hall and Sophie Curtis have since graduated — but the large majority of last year's roster returns alongside a wealth of talent entering the program.
U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian Katherine Bearne will once again mead a group of talented midfielders, while OUA All-Star Emma Lefebvre, and Morton lead a group of dynamic forwards that promise to cause fits for opposing defenders. The Gee-Gees back line will once again be peppered with stars as Thea Nour, Cooper Lee, and Lauren Da Luz are all set to return. Shore will return as one of the OUA's best keepers once again.
The crop of returnees are impressive alone, but the next generation promises to keep the Gee-Gees the team to beat for years to come. Johnson describes the incoming 2019 class of freshmen as one of the best the program has ever seen.
"The rookies have come in and challenged vets for playing spots in every single position. Myself and my coaching staff are still divided on which rookie is our best," he said. "There is a lot of talent on the roster and it bodes well for our future. It's going to be exciting to see both how our veterans respond to this challenge and how our rookies adapt to their first season in the OUA."
The talent and effort from all of the incoming rookies hasn't gone unnoticed by the returning players. Shore said the players don't appear to require an extend period of time to adjust to the higher level of play.
"When I was a rookie the speed of play was faster, the shots were harder, everything was coming in at a million miles an hour," she added. "They've handled that really well, maybe better, than rookie classes I've seen before and I think that speaks to the pedigree coming in, really high."
Kickoff in Oshawa is set for 12 p.m. on Saturday. For live updates, follow Gee-Gees women's soccer on Twitter at @GeeGeesWSOC.