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Holy Cross moves on to the next challenge

Head coach Jeremy Babstock referred to this being a “transition year” for the Holy Cross men’s soccer team, although he added he wasn’t sure if that was the right description.

In this 2015 file photo, Jordi Slaney (left) and Tyler Kirby (16) of the Memorial Sea-Hawks go up for a ball in front of Matt Dunlop (11) of the UPEI Panthers during AUS men's soccer action at King George V Park in St. John's. Kirby, who helped Holy Cross to a Challenge Cup provincial title this week, is back with the Sea-Hawks this season and is one of six Holy Cross players on Memorial’s roster

That’s understandable. Teams in transition aren’t expected to win championships, which is exactly what the Kirby Group Crusaders did over the weekend in taking the Challenge Cup provincial title with a 3-1 win over the St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians at King George V Park in St. John’s.

It was a result that makes Holy Cross the Newfoundland and Labrador representative for the 2018 national Challenge Cup tourney in Surrey, B.C.

One thing was certainly in transition this season — the team’s roster — as Babstock, in his first year as coach, had to deal with a shorter than normal list of available players for t most of the campaign.

“In a way, that was a blessing in disguise, because it meant I had to give some of our younger fellows more playing time than they might have got in previous years,” said Babstock. “In the long run — especially on the (playoff) weekend — I think that paid off.

Mid you, that “younger” description is relative. The Crusaders brought even more youthful talent towards the end of the season as Holy Cross added affiliated players who had been with Canada Games and St. John’s U17 programs.

Canada Games players Gary McKeown, Cesar Figeuora, Harry Carter, Jacob Grant, Fomba Fambulleh and Jack Haywood came on board ,as did under-17 players like Alex Dolomount , George Brokenshire and Logan Strickland, all adding depth to the lineup, something that had been missing all season.

Babstock feels fortunate to have them become available, but particularly lucky in the case of the U17s, who had been part of St. John’s team that had suffered just one loss in 18 games in provincial premier youth league regular-season play.

Defender Alex Pretty, who was named MVP of the Challenge Cup playoff tournament last month, is another Holy Cross player on the Sea-Hawks’ roster.

“But they lost in the provincial final (to Feildians) and that meant they could join us,” said Babstock. “If they would have won, they would have committed to playing in the (U17) nationals, and we wouldn’t have gotten them.

“Not lucky for the (St. John’s) U17 team, but lucky for us, I guess you could say.”

The Holy Cross roster is undergoing what could be termed a temporary shakeup this week, what with a half-dozen Crusader players beginning workouts with the Memorial University Sea-Hawks varsity team.

Tyler Kirby, Challenge Cup playoff MVP Alex Pretty, Sean Henderson, Owen McAleese, Fambulleh and Haywood are Crusaders on the roster of the Sea-Hawks, who are coached by Jake Stanford, whom Babstock replaced as Holy Cross coach when the former decided to step away from the job.

“He’s going to train these guys with the Sea-Hawks for the next little bit,” said Babstock about Stanford, who was on the Holy Cross bench for the Challenge Cup playoffs. “I’ll take the remaining guys for training, but wherever it’s done, I’m confident the guys will be in shape for nationals.

“We’ve been averaging twice a week throughout the summer, so if I can get that now, it will be great.”

However, he’ll be mindful of having the Sea-Hawk-Crusaders doing too much in the way of double duty.

“I’ve got to take into consideration the possibility of over-training. If those guys are playing nearly every weekend with MUN and practising with the Sea-Hawks as well, I’ve got to keep that in mind with what we’re doing.”

Thomas Pieroway

One important Holy Cross player who will also be starting his Atlantic collegiate this week won’t be available for any local training between now and the start of the nationals Oct. 4-9. That’s goalkeeper Thomas Pieroway, who is suiting up for the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in Antigonish, N.S.

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