Her diploma in Dental Hygiene safely in hand, ready to tackle the workforce, St. Charles College graduate McKenna Cresswell celebrated the next step, striding proudly on to the stage of a Cambrian College convocation ceremony this past June.
One small problem lingered, however. Her life-long love of soccer had not yet passed – and one could hardly blame her.
During the three years of her program in Sudbury, Cresswell had enjoyed her rookie season with the Golden Shield women’s soccer team in 2019, though the team would fall short of making the playoffs.
Her 2020 campaign would fall victim to the global pandemic, and even as the OCAA offered a partial varsity schedule in 2021, the Golden Shield were more or less on the sidelines, health restrictions in the north being what they were.
Through it all, the 21-year-old product of both the Valley East Soccer Club (early on) and the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club (with coach Marilyn Bodson and company) a bit later had seen little if any drop in her off-field training, clinging to the hope of still more soccer.
It was this mindset that led her to balance a full-time academic schedule, tackling five online electives with a daytime job and then throwing in several practices and games a week as a member of the 2022 Cambrian women’s soccer formation.
A home playoff encounter was earned, a tight 3-2 win over Redeemer, followed by a monumental effort in falling 1-0 to the Humber Hawks powerhouse, despite having lost both their starting and back-up keepers to injury.
Even better was the fact that the positive takeaways went so far beyond that, fully absorbed in what was likely her final chance to grow and prosper under the tutelage of Cambrian coach Evan Phillips.
“I love playing for Evan,” said Cresswell. “He’s always so happy; he always puts everyone in such a good mood. For my whole life, I always liked going to games – but practices were argh – but I was happy to go to every practice with Cambrian.”
“We relate to him so well.”
Practices and games have been a way of life for Cresswell, the eldest of two girls in the family, since she first stepped on to a soccer pitch in Falconbridge around the age of four.
A competitive hockey player as well, McKenna found the calling of “The Beautiful Game” more tempting as she matured.
“I just kind of leaned more towards soccer,” she said. “I’m a pretty fast runner, so I really enjoyed that with soccer. And I was always good at it.”
Early on, that would translate to scoring opportunities, Cresswell typically pencilled in to man a position up top, as striker or perhaps an attacking midfielder. Then Cambrian arrived, along with a complete reversal of her view of the field, sliding back to the right fullback post.
“It was a really big transition and I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I actually think I am better there – and now I enjoy it a lot more,” she said. “I like seeing the field, I like being aggressive, I don’t like letting people get behind me.”
Her freshman season three years ago gave Cresswell a solid foot in the door, anxious to expand her role over the ensuing two seasons. The world had other ideas – not that this could dampen her passion for the sport that she had committed to pursuing beyond her high-school career a whole lot.
“Throughout the pandemic, I was missing soccer a lot, just hoping that we would have another season,” said Cresswell. “I have a soccer field in my backyard with two nets and my sister (Kynlee) and me would go out and play. I ran on the treadmill a lot, staying in shape for the season.”
This fall, it finally came.
With victories in their last four regular season games, the Golden Shield ladies posted a record of 6-2-2, with Cresswell more than a little thankful that she had appeased the urgings of coach Phillips, returning for at least one more year. “I like being busy, having a schedule, training every day,” she stated.
“I looked forward to seeing the girls every day.”
On field success soon ensued.
“Most of the girls were the same as last year,” noted Cresswell. “We played some indoor games and we were good, but no one really knew how good we were. But right from the beginning of this season, we were winning. Evan was setting small goals and we were reaching every goal that he set for us.”
And while the end result may not have been an OCAA championship banner, a feat that Cambrian has never accomplished in women’s soccer, it was certainly a season that exceeded expectations – and that’s all that McKenna Cresswell could have asked for.
Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.