Tracing the turnaround

Soccer veterans assess their first-place season — and the road that lies ahead

The men’s soccer team will host the Toronto Varsity Blues on Sunday in the OUA quarter-final. If they win, they’ll advance to the OUA Final Four for the first time since 2007.
The men’s soccer team will host the Toronto Varsity Blues on Sunday in the OUA quarter-final. If they win, they’ll advance to the OUA Final Four for the first time since 2007.

The men’s soccer team won’t rest on their laurels just yet.

The Gaels (11-1-2) enjoyed a nearly perfect regular season in 2012, finishing atop their conference for the first time in over a decade. They’re set to face the fourth-seeded Toronto Varsity Blues (7-5-2) in a home quarter-final match on Sunday.

Queen’s has won just one playoff game in the last four seasons, failing to reach the OUA Final Four in that period.

Last year, they lost in the first round, falling in penalty kicks to the lower-seeded Laurentian Voyageurs.

This season, the Gaels lost just once, conceding an OUA-low eight goals in 14 games. They’re favoured to reach the league final and qualify for the CIS national championships.

The team’s veteran players have witnessed an astonishing turnaround since head coach Chris Gencarelli assumed his role in 2010.

Third-year captain Joe Zupo has evolved into one of the OUA’s premier defenders, while fourth-year midfielder Nathan Klemencic made significant offensive contributions in his first season as a starter.

Midfielders Nick Pateras and Patrick Zanetti and defender Adrian Rochford, the team’s fifth-year players, have provided valuable depth and veteran experience throughout their Queen’s careers.

Klemencic, Pateras, Rochford, Zanetti and Zupo sat down with the Journal to discuss the team’s transformation.

After being in the middle of the pack for the last few years, how does it feel to finish in first place?

Zanetti: First is nice — once you get to the playoffs, it doesn’t mean much, though. You have to win once you’re there.

Zupo: No one gets a medal for being first in the OUA East. You need to go and make noise in the playoffs — that’s how you make history.

Do you feel any extra pressure coming into the playoffs?

Klemencic: More than any other year I’ve been here, we’ve got more confidence. It’s a lot less about ‘it sucks to play the bigger teams’ and more that they should be afraid of us. I don’t think there’s more pressure than any other year.

Why were you suddenly able to make the jump to first place this season?

Zupo: From my first year onward, [the coaching staff] has tried to preach a message of possession football, being positive and communicating. That’s resonated more this year than prior years. With the group of lads we have right now, we’ve really come together as a unit.

Zanetti: We’re coming out on top [in close games], where in past years we’ve been on the losing end of those. That’s a testament to the depth of our team, since we’ve had a lot of injuries. Everyone’s given significant minutes this year, which makes a big, big difference.

How important has the defence been to your success this year?

Rochford: This year, more so than others, our back line is playing as a unit. It’s much more organized.

Pateras: The experience has really shown. Our two centre [backs], Zupo and [David] Tom have been pretty critical players since they came, but this year we’ve seen them develop into probably the two best defenders in the league. They’re the towers back there and they’re instrumental in why we have such a good defensive record.

Zupo: I’ve been playing for years, and not once have I had goalkeepers that put in the effort and the consistency that [Dylan Maxwell and Max Materne] put in.

Zanetti: We defend more as a team on the field. That has something to do with the coaching staff being intact for three years and the core group of players being here three years as well.

How big of a difference is it having the same coaches for a few years?

Rochford: It’s so much easier to come to training camp every year and know what’s going to be on the plate. You build on it.

Pateras: It makes it a lot easier being familiar with the ethos of the team and the philosophy the coach wants to implement.

Zanetti: Off-season stuff is a lot more coordinated. When we had an interim coach, training wasn’t the top priority for everyone. It’s a lot easier when you have instructions from the top down.

What’s the team’s attitude heading into the playoffs?

Rochford: It’s just another game. That’s how we’ve come into every single game — we’ve got to win it, no matter who [we play].

Pateras: Anyone in this league can beat anyone. We’re pretty confident that the odds are in our favour. We know we can beat anyone on our day and it wouldn’t be an upset.

Zupo: This week of training, the intensity’s been higher than I’ve ever seen it. From top to bottom, we have players that know they can play the game. If you have that confidence going in for 90 or 120 minutes, that’s when your class is going to show — and we have tons of class with this group.

What are you most looking forward to in the playoffs?

Zanetti: Soccer in November. Never had it.

Zupo: Last year, we were out today. What I want to avoid is that feeling of being empty for the next three or four days, where you don’t even know what to do with yourself.

Pateras: For me, it’s the thrill of knowing that it’s so serious. Our season could be over on Sunday, but it’s entirely in our hands to make it not just this week or the following week, but all the way to nationals.

Zanetti: For those of us in fifth year, we really have to cherish this, because we’ll probably never train or play at this high of a level again in our life. This is it, really.

Pateras: It’s a real privilege. We want to prolong it as long as we can.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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