By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Taking over a team near the end of a season always presents a unique challenge for a coach, but it was one Alex Bianchi was more than willing to take on.
Bianchi is heading into his first full season as head coach of the Durham College women’s soccer club, after taking over with four games left in the 2016 season.
He is no stranger to Durham, having served as an assistant coach with the men’s team for the previous three-and-a-half years.
“Dave Ashfield was the head coach of the men’s team and knew of me [through refereeing]…so when he took over the team he asked me if I would come up because he liked the way I coached my teams,” Bianchi said.
Last season, Bianchi said the college approached him about the possibility of coaching the women’s team.
“The school felt they needed to make a change with the girl’s program. It was kind of struggling and wasn’t really going anywhere,” Bianchi said. “I’ve had experience coaching a lot of girls’ teams before, so they asked me if it was something I’d be interested in, and I was because once a head coach always a head coach.”
With that opportunity, however, came the challenges.
“I walked onto a field and didn’t know anybody’s name,” Bianchi reflected.
This didn’t deter Bianchi, who has 25 years of experience coaching soccer, including a long tenure with the Ajax Soccer Club.
“I’ve coached both boys and girls, typically in the age group of 13 up to 18. So that’s kind of been my forte,” he said. “I’ve done very well in having a lot of my players go to the US on athletic scholarships.”
In fact, the last team Bianchi coached in Ajax has 10 players attending school on athletic scholarships both in Canada and the US.
“Fortunately one of those girls, Bailey Colangelo, is coming here – which was a big bonus,” he said.
Bianchi said the team he will be working with this year will have a much different look as only three players are returning.
“Some graduated, some we sat down and really talked to them about what they are trying accomplish here,” Bianchi said. “There were girls who were trying to go to school, trying to play soccer and trying to carry a part time job…and they were struggling. I’ve always used the theory that you can only do two of the three.”
With that said, Bianchi has been extremely busy with the recruitment element of his job.
“We have a huge incoming class…I’ve recruited a lot of girls and we’ve been fortunate to have some transfers coming over. I think we have a group of girls who understand the expectation of what we want to do and understand that at the end of the day, you’re here to go to school,” he said.
Bianchi’s recruitment class for the 2017 season includes Colangelo, a Whitby native who plays backfield, Oshawa’s Mya Beverly (fullback/striker) and Jayden Ball (goalkeeper), Pickering’s Natassha Hassenstein (midfielder), and Toronto’s Jennifer Smith.
Speaking on his expectations on the field, Bianchi said they will play “a high-tempo, attacking game”, a philosophy he said he has instilled in every team he has ever coached.
With the amount of turnover on the team, there is a solid possibility of significant improvement this year, he added.
“The one thing I’ve learned in the college game, because of the turnover, teams can become competitive pretty fast. I think it’s a bit more challenging on the university side where typically you have players for four years,” he said. “We finished fourth last year, I think we can finish third. We are a little ways off from playing with the big boys like Algonquin.”
Bianchi said he already has his sights set on recruiting for 2018 and wants to show that Durham is back “on the radar” in women’s soccer.
“We have to show kids that Durham is a good program, and maybe they should stay home versus going to, say, Ottawa. You’d be amazed how many kids in Durham Region go to school in Ottawa and a lot is dictated because they want to play on a quality soccer team.”
With only a few months until training camp begins, Binachi said he is ready for his first full season at the helm.
“I’m excited about the opportunity. Durham College is a great place with great facilities. Athletic director Ken Babcock and his administrative staff have been super supportive in this turnaround. I think we have the right mindset with the team now and I think are going to surprise a few people.”