Canaan Christian Academy's varsity soccer teams are primed for action

Canaan Christian Academy is coming off one of its most successful varsity soccer seasons in school history.

Last fall, the Lady Eagles finished second in the NY-Penn League regular season standings with nine wins.

Coach John Ashley's girls then proceeded to go on a magical playoff run, eventually capturing the tournament title in a championship game that few who witnessed it will ever forget.

“I don't know that we'll ever be able to top that,” the veteran skipper said of his team's shootout win over Twin Tiers. “Almost a year has gone by now and I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”

Meanwhile, Canaan's boys team came within a whisker of matching their varsity counterparts.

The Eagles went 7-3-0 in the regular season and qualified for the playoffs. Coach Mark Swartley's lads also advanced to the gold medal game, but came up just short against perennial powerhouse Cortland.

“I'm excited,” said new head coach Pat Hughes just moments before practice on Thursday. “We're a young team, but it's a great group of kids and I can't wait for them to get out there and see what they can do.”

Both of Canaan's varsity squads will get their first chance to show what they can do in the coming days.

Coach Ashley's girls will be back on the pitch Wednesday, September 6 at home versus Central.

The boys will travel to Faith Christian in Roseto for a pre-season tournament on Saturday, August 24.

Ready to Roll

Any discussion of this year's CCA girls varsity squad must begin with the veterans. The Lady Eagles will be led by four talented, hard-working seniors.

Audrey Skelton, Grace Hughes, Julia Hunter and Rosie Sheard will all serve as captains for the 2019 campaign.

Skelton is a big-hearted kid who plays with uncommon toughness. Audrey gritted her teeth and played through several injuries as a junior, helping CCA secure that unforgettable win over Twin Tiers in the tournament title tilt

“Audrey's just all heart,” said Coach Ashley with a smile. “She's not the fastest player in the world, but she's smart and tough and just never gives up.”

Hughes has been a fixture in the midfield ever since she first set foot on the varsity pitch. However, with the loss of Heather Lamberson (the school's record-setting forward) to graduation Grace may be destined to play striker.

“We've only had a few practices so far, but boy I like what I'm seeing from Gracie up front,” Coach Ashley said. “I love the way Gracie plays. She's one of the toughest, hardest-working kids on the team.”

Hunter will be penciled in at center-mid this fall. She's already demonstrating excellent leadership skills, taking some of the younger players under her wing.

“Julia's very strong-willed … in a good way,” Coach Ashley said. “She's already impressing me in practice, so I'm expecting big things from her.”

Sheard has shown versatility in the past by stepping on at several positions. She'll likely see the majority of her time this fall in the midfield.

“Rosie is an enigma,” Coach Ashley said. “She doesn't have a ton of experience, but she has a good work ethic and a good heart so I think she'll be a solid fit in the midfield.”

A New Era

Pat Hughes is optimistic about his first season at the helm of the boys team.

Canaan will be young this fall as there are just one senior and one junior on the varsity roster.

Jacob Hanna will anchor an inexperienced back line. He's a battle-tested, steady presence that the younger Eagles will look to for leadership this year.

“Jacob is extremely hard-working,” Coach Hughes said. “He's a leader on and off the field. Jacob has a good natural feel for the game and he sees the field very well.”

Nick Antolick returns as keeper. A junior who earned his stripes last fall between the posts, Antolick evolved into one of the NY-Penn's best goalies by the end of the season.

“Nobody works harder than Nick,” Coach Hughes said. “He's very vocal and aggressive. Nick takes charge back there and isn't afraid to go out after the ball. I think Nick's going to have a great season.”

Looking Ahead

Canaan's girls team has adopted a motto for the 2019 season: “Head's Up, Heart's Right, Can't Fail!”

It's a mantra that could works well for both teams, and one Coach Ashley supports 100 percent.

“It fits us perfectly,” he said. “We're a small school, but we have some talented kids who play the game the right way.

“I'm no sure that we'll win a ton of games this year, but is our heads are up and our hearts are right, we really can't fail.”