Making the grade: An evaluation of Laurier’s fall 2011 varsity teams

Men’s Football

Strongly recognized as a top-tier team at the outset of the 2011 season, the Wilfrid Laurier men’s football team looked like they would finally vault themselves into the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) finals for the first time since 2006, with only the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and McMaster University considered strong competition for the Yates Cup.

But a combination of a surprisingly competitive and parity-filled league, some key defensive issues at the beginning of the year, and some offensive mistakes made near the conclusion, the mixture created the perfect storm for the Golden Hawks.

Boasting one of the strongest offensive tandems in school history, with the likes of fifth-year Dillon Heap leading the special teams, with Felix Odum at his side, and receivers like nationally second-ranked CFL prospect Shamawd Chambers, veteran Mark Surya, third-year Russ Jirgens, fullback Isaac Dell, runningback Anton Bennett, and a mid-season return of Alex Anthony, the school looked poised to score points, and score a lot of them.

Even kicker Ronnie Pfeffer found his groove midway through the year, taking over for an injured Nathan Hawkes.

Quarterback Shane Kelly had one year of the Canadian game under the American’s belt and was expected to make noise.

And while he did rack up the most touchdowns in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) 2011 season (with 20) and the most yards gained in the OUA with 2,236, Kelly frequently threw into interceptions at critical points late in the game.

Despite the starting QB not being a scrambler, Kelly was hesitant to run with the ball all year, which led to more suffocating coverage on his receivers.

The defence was led by fourth-years Mitchell Bosch and Dan Bishop with Scott McCahill and Chris Ackie manning the lines, and Sam Aird having his greatest season, with 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The defence started out struggling, giving up 133 points within a string of three games against Windsor, Queen’s and UWO. Those three losses put the Hawks in a 1-3 hole, which they were able to climb out of to finish the year 4-4.

But in the post-season, the purple and gold were unable to capitalize on a Queen’s team without their starting quarterback, and while they did stop the nation’s leading runningback Ryan Granberg on multiple occasions in the quarterfinals, the Gaels squeaked out a 14-10 defensive showdown win.

Whether it was the massive expectations on the team, or the fact that neither the offence nor defence seemed completely comfortable with themselves for extended periods of time, the Hawks missed their year to make noise. They’ll look to rebuild next season with multiple graduates moving on.

Top Rookie: REC Kelvin Muamba

Most Underrated: REC Mark Surya

Most-Improved: LB Sam Aird

Team MVP: REC Dillon Heap (also the winner of the CIS Russ Jackson Award for excellence in football, academics and citizenship)

Team Grade: C+

Men’s Soccer

Head coach Mario Halapir knew this year might be a tough one, but he didn’t expect this.

The men’s soccer squad was devastated by graduation this year, with past stars like Alex Doma, Ben Clifford, Zach Faubert-Tetrault, Eamonn Hardy, Josh Moore and Matt Smith departing, the team needed to lean on forward Spencer Cawker, midfielder Hugo Hernandez and defenceman Chris Walker to get them through a year which saw the team collect 14 first-years on its roster.

Halapir frequently tried to get more out of his veterans, but often to no avail. With such a young team, the squad finished with a 4-8-4 record and a seventh-place finish in the OUA West; not good enough to make the post-season.

Though they did have flashes of decent play, like their 1-1 draw against York, which was York’s first and only time without a loss until they tied their eighth game, the youngsters just couldn’t keep up with a competitive OUA.

Robert Kardaras had a pleasant season, scoring three goals,and rookies Edis Sokmez, Giorgio Delgado and Justin Manning all scored once in the year.

But mostly the team’s returning players regressed in terms of goals-scored. The team struggled to put the ball in the cage as Sandro Stojakovic and Hernandez couldn’t find the net at all this year after scoring multiple times in 2010. Donald Chmura led this year’s team with five goals.

Top Rookie: F Robert Kardaras

Most Underrated: G Martyn Hooker

Team MVP: D Trevor Schein

Team Grade: C-

Women’s Soccer

Probably the most highly-regarded to even step foot on Laurier’s Alumni Field was the 2011 edition of the Wilfrid Laurier University women’s soccer team.

With offensive weapons like Team Canada rookie Alyssa Lagonia, Heather Malizia, Emily Brown and newly-acquired Krista Cellucci, the team had no problem scoring goals, clearly evident by the team-record 36 they snuck by opposing goalies. Cellucci led the way with 10, the rookie Brown had nine and Lagonia finished the regular season with five.

The midfield boasted one of the country’s top players in Tania Pedron, who controlled the game from her place in the midsection of the turf all year.

The defence was led by Sadie Anderson, Jess Carter and Kelsey Tikka, and the team had a number of players who led a supporting cast that could probably be most other team’s starting lineups in Nicole Currie, Emilie Corso, Jacqueline Lence, Becca Isaacs, Julia Marchese, Kelsey Abbott and Julie Maheu.

The team obliterated their competition during the season, owning a 12-2 record but fell in the OUA’s gold-medal match, 1-0 in penalty kicks to Queen’s.

In the CIS finals, the Hawks mustered a complete effort against both the Montreal Carabins and the Trinity Western Spartans, but couldn’t score more than once in those two games, and fell to seventh-place in the tournament — a finish no one had in the cards for one of the best teams ever assembled at Laurier in recent history.

Top Rookie: F Emily Brown

Most Underrated: D Jess Carter

Team MVP: MF Alyssa Lagonia

Team Grade: A-

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