Student athletes will face many obstacles in their careers. These range from injuries to team conflicts, from saying goodbye to friends graduating to having to deal with life as a student and life outside of sports.
For most, university is a time of immense growth, and student athletes are no exception. The obstacles that student athletes face can help them grow and deal with adversity in ways that other students may not realize.
Stephanie Roberts is one of the better known student athletes at McMaster. Regularly awarded for her efforts on the soccer team, she is no stranger to success. The women’s soccer team graduating captain has even been featured many times in this very paper.
Roberts’s career at McMaster was littered with roses, but it wasn’t without its thorns. With the unfortunate passing of the team's coach, Joseph Valvasori, and the injury Roberts had in her final year, there were many bumps along the road. However, she is still graduating on a high note and leaving McMaster with many great memories.
Stephanie Roberts (6) F
Roberts was an asset to the team from her first year to her last. She was a starter right from the get-go, as she started for 12 out of 15 games in her rookie season. In her freshman year, she accumulated eight goals in 15 games, even pulling in a hat trick. This impressive start would continue as Roberts progressed in her campaign wearing maroon and grey. While her sophomore season doesn’t stand out on paper, with two goals and four assists, it was the stepping stone to a stellar third season.
In her third season, the Ontario University Athletics All-Star really began to shine. Roberts would go on to lead the nation in goals scored, with a total of 14 goals by the end of the 16 games of the regular season. This was just one of the accolades she earned throughout the year, as she was also named a two-time OUA athlete of the week, an OUA First-Team All-Star and, finally, the U Sports October Female athlete of the month.
It is safe to say that the 2018 season saw Roberts step into a role of strong leadership which set her up to become team captain, a role that would become increasingly clear as the team progressed into the postseason. The 2018 season was also the year that the team finally overcame a three-year losing streak in the first round of the playoffs.
Not only would they overcome this losing streak, but they would also take home an OUA bronze and punch their tickets to the national championships for the first time since 1997. They would then go on to place fourth overall in Canada by the end of the year. This constant battle in the postseason that occurred over the previous three years was a learning experience for Roberts.
“This taught me that success definitely does not come easy, and it’s important to not give up on your goals!” she remarked.
However, the playoff battle was not the only one happening within the team. In June of 2018, the McMaster women’s soccer team family was struck with devastating news that their longtime coach, Joe Valvasori, had been diagnosed with cancer. In April of 2019, Valvasori passed away.
The unfortunate passing of Coach Valvasori would cast a cloud over the program in the following year.
“Losing Joe was really, really hard on all of us. He was the best coach we’ve ever had and brought us all so much happiness. I found my fifth season really hard without him because every practice, game or film session was a reminder that he wasn’t with us anymore,” said Roberts.
The team stepped up and played the season in his honour. They made it to the second round of the OUA playoffs, where they fell short to the Western University Mustangs.
Unfortunately, Roberts was injured 11 games into the 2019 season, something which would bring a bittersweet end to her career as a Marauder.
“I won't lie, it was definitely tough not getting to play on my seniors day or play alongside my teammates during our playoff run, but I wouldn't say my injury spoiled my final year. I was still able to play in over half our games and make memories I'll hold for a lifetime. My teammates were also all so supportive while I was in the hospital and recovering, which made the whole thing a lot easier on me,” said Roberts.
The end of her time on the field did not stop Roberts’s season with the team. Roberts was a strong presence on the sidelines and helped her squad in more ways than just competing through being there for her team. Her efforts to help her teammates regardless of her own position would help her earn the title of women’s soccer MVP by the end of the 2019-2020 season. Knowing she was able to make an impact regardless of her situation was an honour, and Roberts left McMaster on a high note.
As Roberts leaves this year, the program turns a new chapter. One of the more crucial leaders on the field is graduating and the team just announced the new head coach of the program, Miranda Wiley. There is a bittersweet feeling in the air. It is certainly the end of an era, but with new beginnings also comes hope.
By Adriana Skaljin
For Claudia Continenza, assistant captain of the women’s soccer team, soccer has shaped her life both on and off of the field.
The fourth-year English and History student started playing soccer at the age of three, picking up skating and basketball as well. She eventually took to soccer and realized that it is the sport about which she is most passionate.
Continenza started playing for Glanbrook and then Mississauga, eventually moving back to Hamilton and playing for Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School. This ongoing passion for the sport lead to Continenza becoming a walk-on for the McMaster team in her first year, where she has played every year since.
“I noticed two differences between playing high school and university-level soccer,” said Continenza. “Firstly, is the commitment level, regarding both determination and fitness. Secondly, playing at a university level allows you to have new respect for everyone around you, as the team becomes a second family.”
Both on and off the field, the women’s soccer team has become a support system for every player. Whether it is cheering each other on and remaining supportive no matter the outcome during the game, or spending time together outside of the game, the team has created a family-like environment.
“We’re a very goofy team,” explained Continenza. “The majority of the team, fifteen players to be exact, are fourth-years and we have played together throughout our undergraduate career. We are always joking around and choose to spend our time together off the field as well. Some of the girls even live together.”
Continenza speaks on behalf of every player when she says that this family dynamic has bettered their playing skills, as the ongoing support encourages players to take risks on the field.
“You’re never afraid of messing up, because you know that the team will always support you and will recognize the risk that you were taking,” said Continenza.
It is this support that manages the team dynamic. Anyone who has been on a team will agree that the closeness and positivity between teammates will be reflected in their playing.
[spacer height="20px"]Moments such as a scoreless tie against the University of Western Ontario Mustangs back on Aug. 31, and then playing them again on Sept. 21, made the team realize the strength in positivity.
The Marauders ended up losing 2-1 in their game against the Mustangs, but there are still positives to be taken away from that loss.
“We played well during our last game against Western, but I think that we played better this time,” said head coach Joe Valvasori.
Despite the loss that came from the second Western game, it is evident that the team dynamic pushed for a win in its progression as a team.
“Sometimes, our results don’t accurately reflect how we’ve been doing,” explained Continenza. “This is some of the best soccer that we have played and we are doing everything right. It is just the results that escape us. This is something that we have realized and use as motivation for the second half of the season.”
[spacer height="20px"]This concept of a family-oriented team dynamic has been echoed by teammates such as Emma Czernuszka, who has recently been named McMaster Female Athlete of the Week.
“On and off the field we are first and foremost a family,” Czernuszka said. “We win together, lose together, push through every grueling fitness practice and midterm season together, and most importantly we always have each other’s backs. Our trust in each other is put into action every practice and game.”
Czernuszka went on to explain the ways that coach Valvasori would motivate the team before games. He reiterates the fact that they need to fight for one another and believe in each other because that is what families do.
Valvasori said himself that the team is a “tight-knit bunch that has created a family like atmosphere.” The support that comes from the coaches has contributed to this positive dynamic.
“There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for anyone on my team, and I think that mentality is what allows us to be such a cohesive unit,” said Czernuszka.
It is through their love for the sport and each other that the McMaster women’s soccer team works to achieve their goal of being a unified and successful team both on and off the pitch.