Ups & downs of staying in town

While some varsity teams struggle to find competitive outlets for their athletes, others are reaping the benefits of playing with Kingston-based sports teams

Queen’s striker Jacqueline Tessier chases down a teammate during a Kingston FC training session.
Queen’s striker Jacqueline Tessier chases down a teammate during a Kingston FC training session.
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Queen’s s midfielder Michelle Waintraub in action for Kingston FC.
Queen’s s midfielder Michelle Waintraub in action for Kingston FC.
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Varsity athletes who stay in Kingston for the summer could be at a disadvantage come training camp this August. For some sports, there are no local opportunities to play at a high enough level.

Men’s soccer striker Jordan Brooks has spent previous off-seasons playing for the Kamloops Excel in the semi-pro Pacific Coast Soccer League. This summer he’s playing in the Kingston Men’s League.

“I struggled with the realization that I would really be stepping down from the level that I had been playing at,” Brooks said. In past summers, Brooks was playing six times per week. This summer, he’ll play one game per week and he won’t have regular training sessions.

The Professional Development League is the highest amateur soccer league in North America, with clubs in Ottawa, London and Toronto. Teams like the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, last year’s OUA champions, can send players to these squads..

Players in these cities have other competitive options. Carleton Ravens players compete with Capital United FC in Ottawa and Western Mustangs play for the Ontario-champion AEK London.

Last season, the Ravens placed second in the OUA East and the Mustangs earned a berth at the CIS national tournament. There’s a clear benefit to keeping players together at a high level. Queen’s men’s soccer players simply do not have that option.

Athletes on the women’s team don’t face the same issue. The local women’s team, Kingston FC, lets Queen’s women play twice weekly against teams across the province. Kingston FC only joined the competitive circuit three years ago, but they’ve already won the Ontario Women’s Soccer League Regional East division title. This year they are playing in the OWSL Provincial division.

Kingston FC draws talent from soccer programs at Queen’s, Royal Military College and St. Lawrence College. Gaels assistant coach Kevin Greig is the head coach of Kingston FC over the summer.

Queen’s veteran Kelli Chamberlain said it’s very important to have a competitive off-season option available in Kingston.

“Kingston FC is a great choice,” Chamberlain said. “It’s really important to be playing at a level close to the calibre at the university level, so that you are starting at a higher level when training camp begins.”

Queen’s rugby players also have strong incentives to remain in town. The Kingston Panthers Rugby club, defending champions in Eastern Ontario, regularly includes Queen’s players.

“Last year, we had four Queen’s players starting in the final, and they played a big role,” club representative Denis Aseltine said. “They are very important to the program, because without their support, we wouldn’t be able to field two teams.”

After having won the Barden League in Eastern Ontario last season, the team has joined the Toronto-based Marshall League.

Last year, six Queen’s men played with the Panthers. The more these Gaels play together, the more comfortable they become.

There’s an obvious correlation here. The men’s rugby team were OUA champions in 2009 and OUA bronze medalists in 2010. The women’s soccer team have competed in the CIS championships for two successive seasons and were national champions last fall.

The recent success of both teams is a testament to the strength of Kingston-based sports teams. For the sake of all varsity teams, the quality of off-season competition in Kingston must become a priority.

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