By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Winning millions in the lottery. Scoring a hole in one on the golf course. There are many things that can be described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the Oshawa Turul Xtreme soccer club may have them all beat.
Earlier this spring players and team management were shocked to learn all 16 members of the team had been offered scholarships by Algoma University in Sault St. Marie.
Club manager Shelly Nippard says it is like nothing she has ever witnessed before.
“You never hear that. I’ve been on many tours in Canada and the U.S., and I’ve never seen the bulk of 16 players, or six for that matter, offered scholarships,” she says.
Thirteen of the girls accepted the offer, which even in itself is extraordinary.
The story has its beginnings around Christmas of last year when Algoma’s lead recruiter invited the team to participate in a showcase at the school.
“He said, ‘We have a new coaching staff and new president, we ‘d love to get you up there,” Nippard recalls.
On the weekend of March 24 and 25, players and their families packed into their cars and made the almost eight-hour trip to the Sault, an unknown destination for the teens.
“Not one girl even knew the university existed,” she says.
But the same can’t be said for university officials, as Nippard says it was obvious they had been scouting the team for some time.
“They paid for the hotels, gas, and flights. They met us there on the Friday night and stayed with us right until the moment when we got into our cars to leave,” she says.
In addition to playing an exhibition game against the Algoma team, the girls also received a tour of the university.
The following evening, the astonishing offer was made.
“They said, ‘we’ve love nothing more than to offer all your girls a spot,” Nippard states.
When the players received the news, even Nippard admits she didn’t anticipate the reaction.
“We are just shocked that this opportunity was even there, and even more shocked that all 16 were interested.”
Three of the girls had to decline the offer because Algoma does not offer the programs they are interested in.
Attending university together would be just the next in a long line of experiences the girls have shared together.
“Everything we do is family-based. Everything we do, we do it together,” Nippard says.
The majority of the members of the Xtreme have been playing with or against each other for the better part of nearly a decade.
The chemistry on the field is matched only by the friendships developed after the game ends.
“We already have a foundation that is rock solid. When they’re not playing soccer, they are together,” Nippard explains.
And the players heading to Algoma can take solace in the fact they will face one of life’s most challenging times together.
“It’s a stressful time, leaving home and going away, especially far away. It’s an unnerving experience, but it’s already set that they’re not going to be by themselves. You have that home feeling, that’s the game changer, and that’s going to set them aside.”
As rare a feat as they’ve accomplsihed, the Xtreme have the success on the field to back it up, capturing top spot in their age group in the Central Soccer League between 2012 and 2016.
The group had a three-year undefeated streak in the CSL and have won numerous showcases and tournaments across the province.
It is this success that has earned the Xtreme the respect and recognition, which could be seen as a huge factor in the interest from Algoma.
However, as Nippard explains, that wasn’t always clear.
“People always thought here come the Turul, big deal,” Nippard recalls. “Now we get respect because they work hard and the results are there. When we go into a game, the other team knows they’re in for a battle.”
For Nippard, it is a fitting honour for a special group of people.
“At the end of the day, it boils down to the girls and their families. These families are very strong and involved in their soccer lives,” she says. “They excel on the field, they excel in school and in the community.”
Players who have accepted the offer are:
Sabrina Adey – # 80, Defender
Katie Belfry – #9, Midfield
Megan Chandler – #1, Goalkeeper
Sydney Conrad – #24, Midfielder
Jenna Crombie – #18, Defender
Maria Fernandes De Melo – #11, Striker
Faith Holmes – #13, Defender
Jayden Newhook – #8, Defender
Katie Nippard – #87, Striker
Leigha Nippard – #41, Midfielder
Cierra Meredith – #6, Defender
Hayley Tremblay – #10, Striker
Jackie Wilson – #17, Midfielder