The letter W stands for the Woolwich Wolfpack. And winning. That's all this girls soccer team seems to do.
The latest in a long line of victories over the last five years for the Woolwich Youth Soccer Club entry came in the Under-16 regional tournament of champions held recently in Guelph.
The Wolfpack — age-group winners of two consecutive and three Ontario Cups plus one finals appearance in the last four years — ruled the regional roost in Guelph. Woolwich, representing the Western Region Soccer League, triumphed over champions from the Golden Horseshoe, Central (Toronto area and Durham Region) and East regions.
"We were playing all the teams who won their leagues, so going into it we thought it was going to be tough," said Wolfpack striker Alliyah Rowe, who shares team captain duties with defender Rebecca Kim and midfielder Tyanna Ventura. "You had to have the mindset that these are the hardest games you're ever going to play."
Yet the Wolfpack made it look relatively easy.
Woolwich went unbeaten in the event, winning twice and tying 1-1 with Glen Shields, the team the Wolfpack defeated on penalty kicks to win the Ontario Cup recently in Vaughan. The regional tournament did not feature a championship game, with Woolwich easily outdistancing its round-robin field by 10 points based on six points for a win, one for a draw and points for goals scored, and shutouts, format.
The Glen Shields contest underscores the essence of the Wolfpack's philosophy of preparation meeting opportunity, instilled by head coach Aldo Krajcar. It's resulted in a long list of accomplishments for a group of girls who have been together since the under-12 level. Continuity is key, but so is goal-setting.
"Aldo looks for team goals that aren't necessarily about winning, but making the team better," Kim said.
So, though they won the Ontario Cup, the Woolwich players were not fully satisfied with their performance in the shootout victory and were keen to again measure themselves against a respected opponent. This even though Woolwich went into the Glen Shields game having already clinched the regional championship thanks to respective 3-0 and 2-0 wins over Cumberland United and Saltfleet/Stoney Creek. It was technically a nothing game, but pride in performance was at stake.
"It would have been better to win (over Glen Shields) but it was satisfying because even though we didn't need to win, we played better than we had previously against them," said Rowe, who scored the Wolfpack goal.
Rowe, Jessalyn Hill and Victoria Jensen scored against Cumberland while Jensen and Madison McGregor scored against Saltfleet/Stoney Creek. Goalkeepers Georgia Triantafilou and Hannah Petrosino shared both shutouts.
The tournament victories and league and Ontario titles come as a byproduct of a philosophy that has full buy-in from the players.
"At the start of the year Aldo had us write down and show him three team and three individual goals for the year," Kim said.
One of them, mission accomplished, was to win another Ontario Cup.
But the players knew Krajcar was more interested in the intangibles that separate a team from just a group of players wearing the same uniform.
"I put down things like, pay attention. Focus during practice. Be able to play different positions and, as a captain, make sure everyone is on the same page as a team for those times when things get tough in a game and everyone needs to stay relaxed," Kim said. "We all have good basic skills but Aldo has helped us with an understanding of soccer, tactics and so on."
The bigger picture, in other words. It's a true team effort, Kim said, from parents to players to coaching staff and manager John Tsilogianis.
"I don't know if there's a secret," Kim said. "Everyone involved is super dedicated and loves what they're doing. All the girls just love playing soccer, have the drive and are very competitive."
The height of that competition, arguably, comes in team practices.
"I tell them, the key to becoming a good player is focus," Krajcar said. "Ninety per cent of what you do comes from practice, if you absorb everything. Whatever you achieve is 90 per cent from practice, just 10 per cent from the games. I'd rather someone miss a game than a practice."
Practice has made pretty much perfect for the Wolfpack, based on their record. But Krajcar hopes the on-field results are secondary.
"I'm so proud of them but for me it's not so much about the trophies," Krajcar said. "What's important is that, maybe in 10 or 15 years, I see someone on the street or in a mall or wherever and the thing they say to me is, 'Aldo, you made a difference in my life.'"
Karlo Berkovich’s column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at [email protected] . Twitter: @KarloBerkovich