By: Monty Mosher
Robyn Novorolsky wouldn't have missed this season for the world.
Novorolsky, an all-conference defender, is one of four players on the undefeated Cape Breton Capers women's soccer team to come back for a fifth season.
It's not hard to understand the motivation, but it is not just about winning.
The Capers won the AUS championship in 2013 and 2015 and had an 11-1 record last season, making them the No. 1 seed for the AUS tournament set to be played on their home turf.
If the Capers were a shoo-in for nationals, someone should have told the St. Francis Xavier X-Women. In the semifinals, the X-Women defeated the Capers 1-0 after a shootout.
Novorolsky had a goal during the kicks, but the X-Women prevailed. A season that offered the promise of a national championship medal ended that day for Cape Breton head coach Ness Timmons and his players.
Novorolsky, from Richmond Hill, Ont., keeper Lysianne Trottier (Barrie, Ont.), all-Canadian midfielder Alyssa Armstrong (St. John's, N.L.) and midfielder Tamara Brown (Whitby, Ont.) are the fifth-year seniors on the team, providing the spine for a side ranked fifth in the nation.
It's an oddity. Timmons, in his 22nd year with the program, doesn't recall anything like it.
There are twice as many fifth-year players as there are fourth-year players, with Becky Hanna (Howie Centre) and Keona Simmonds (Brampton, Ont.) the only two listed on the roster in that class.
Novorolsky, a top student in sciences, doesn't want to create the wrong impression. It's not just soccer with all four players equally focused on their work in the classroom. Some are awaiting graduate school placements.
But losing last last year fueled the passion on the pitch for 2017.
"It was a motivating factor," she said this week, as the conference takes a break to allow players to attend the Canadian senior club championships. "We knew we had one more go at it this year coming back. Losing last year motivated our training in the summer."
Armstrong, in B.C. this weekend with a team from her home province, said the situation is extremely rare.
"Just to have that leadership and presence on the field for us is great and, for the team, just bonds us together," she said. "We've been together for five years and created such a friendship. It's awesome the way it worked out that all of four could come back."
The Capers are 7-0, having scored 26 goals while allowing only one.
It has played out nearly to perfection for the team with the veterans leading a group with some younger established talent, as well as six rookies.
Simmonds and third-year Ciera Disipio (Ottawa) share the conference lead with seven goals each.
"During the summer we looked at the team we had coming in and thought we could do something special," said Novorolsky.
Time has created a special bond for the senior talent, but there was no pact to return as a group.
"The four of us have been together for five years," Novorolsky said. "We've done it all together.
"This year just kind of happened. We just individually decided that was what was best for us. It was afterwards we all found we were coming back. So it was great to have one more chance to finish five years all together and finish on a high note."
Every team strives for what the Capers have in abundance.
"It's about cohesiveness, being connected," Novorolsky said. "We're a close-knit group. There aren't a lot of us, so we all get along well and work together well. We have this common goal we can work towards. When you are like that off the field it helps on the field."
Timmons said that once the players knew they were returning the focus turned to making it a special year.
"When you realize it is your last shot at something, I think you've got another gear," he said. "They've all taken on a leadership role and I've given them more ownership of the team. Maybe that accounts for a little bit of our start, which has been very good."
Timmons has never had close to this much fifth-year experience. In fact, it's rare enough to have one.
He recalls star scorer Karolyne Blain a few years back while she awaited admission to medical school.
"Chelsea Currie came back last year, so you might get one, or maybe even a second that fits in, but to have four, and all quality players, it's been a bonus, for sure."
There's a sense now of finishing up the right way. If that concludes with an AUS title, or something more, that would be terrific for all involved.
But for Timmons, there may be something even more important for future years.
"The fifth-year kids know that when we make a trip to another university it's the last one," he said. "They know it's the last training camp, or the last October for practice. It carries over to the rest of the team to appreciate what you have here and to give it your best regardless of what happens at the end."
Armstrong agrees there is more to the season than raising a trophy, as much as that is what she and her teammates are working towards.
"It's nice to win those titles and get to go to nationals, but I think for me and the other girls just having the season we are now and just getting to be on the field one last time, that's what we live for. That's why we play."