As per The Game Sports Show
Ovey Putting Sole Focus in Women’s Program Ending 8-year Run with Men Thunderbirds — The Back Story that put Algoma University & Sault Ste. Marie Soccer on the Map
Master Coach of the Algoma University Thunderbirds Soccer Program, Neil Ovey, has stepped down from his duties as the men’s head coach. This ends an 8-year period with the men’s program. Ovey was appointed head coach from the ﬁrst day of Algoma’s inception as a competitive soccer program back in 2012. Ovey will now be putting his entire focus into the women’s team at Algoma, a process that is well underway.
Ovey has named Daniel Scarpino as his assistant coach for his new venture with the women’s program. As for the men’s program, a new head coach will be announced at a further time. Coach Neil Ovey is implementing a vision for the women’s team this upcoming season, one that is logical, progressive, and attainable.
After a much improved season in 2019, many expectations were met which gives Ovey the license to pursue even higher expectations with this years squad. The aim is to reach the playoffs this season while continuing to improve the culture of the program. A women’s team, nearly assembled to a T based on Ovey’s recruitment, will see a concrete identity and philosophy engrained in the soccer that they play.
More than this, a young squad ﬁlled with 1st and 2nd year players will have their work cut out for them in the off-season and pre-season. Ovey has preached the principles of work ethic and exceptional mentality. These are principles that the players have already started to employ in their daily work inside and outside of the classroom. A new era, in a certain way, begins for Ovey and the women’s program at Algoma University.
An era that is exciting, innovative, and forward-looking. While everyone waits in anticipation for the 2020 OUA soccer season to commence at the end of August, feelings of excitement ring throughout Algoma University campus and the city of Sault Ste. Marie. With this new, ﬁnite focus for Ovey, he leaves behind 8 years of developmental work with the men’s soccer program at Algoma University. While Ovey is beyond excited for this new venture, it’d be remiss to suggest that he leaves the men’s program with ease.
A tough decision, it was, for Ovey, to leave something that he built from scratch. When Algoma University announced that they would be introducing a competitive soccer program in 2012, Ovey started only with 3 local players who he recruited to help start the program for the Thunderbirds. With a bag of soccer balls, 25 track suits, and an open ﬁeld of grass behind the university, Neil Ovey understood what it was like to have virtually nothing when it came to starting a soccer program. In his ﬁrst season in charge, Ovey was able to assemble a squad built around local players, a few Ontario recruits, and plenty of out-of-country students. Ovey quickly implemented his ideas, vision, and philosophy in the ﬁrst two weeks of the job.
While he was working full-time elsewhere, Ovey continued to put in near full-time coaching hours as well. In Algoma’s ﬁrst year as a competitive program, with Ovey at the helm, the squad played in the Ontario College and NCAA Division II & III outdoor soccer circuit competing in out-of-town ﬁxtures as part of an implementation program designed by the university. The squad ﬁnished their ﬁxture list with a near .500 record (W-D-L). Additionally, the team attended an indoor soccer tournament where they placed 2nd after a 2-1 defeat in the cup ﬁnal. Finally, the team competed locally in the Sault’s Premier Soccer League where they placed 5th in league play and suffered a loss in their playoff semi-ﬁnal match by a score of 5-3 to the eventual champions.
After qualifying for the Ontario Provincial group stage tournament in Vaughan, the Algoma Men’s squad came away with a 0-3-0 record (W-D-L). In the process, Ovey’s men drew with the #1 ranked team in the province, the Fanshawe Falcons. An overall successful ﬁrst-year for Ovey and the men’s Thunderbirds. It’s almost a little shocking to think that a coach who had a full-time job, often working night shift, was able to dedicate as much time as he humanly could to weekly practices, team meetings, weight room sessions, and recruiting. In
Algoma’s second season, Ovey and the Thunderbirds saw themselves have a similar outdoor soccer schedule while scaling back the indoor competitions due to preparation purposes for their ﬁrst OUA season which would come the following year. Their outdoor ﬁxture list ended with a similar record, again around .500 like the season prior. These preparations also including a singular exhibition ﬁxture against Trent University, an established OUA program. The Thunderbirds dropped a 1-0 result conceding a goal in the 81st minute. While the game was lost, the play from the Thunderbirds showed that they could compete adequately with OUA competition. While still competing in the local indoor Premier League, the Algoma men saw themselves ﬁnish 4th in league play while bowing out in a playoff semi-ﬁnal on penalty kicks to the eventual champions. This was an entire 9 months of preparation work for what would be the start of an OUA campaign for the entire university.
In Ovey’s third season at the helm of the men’s program, they joined the OUA circuit and all that came with it. This included pre-season friendlies and a 16-game regular season. Having successfully picked up points in their ﬁrst season as an OUA program, sights were set on improvement for years to come. In their indoor competitions, Ovey guided the Thunderbirds to a 3rd place ﬁnish in league play and a quarter-ﬁnal exit in the playoffs. After having saw what was required at this level, Ovey knew he’d have to turn-it-up on the recruitment trail and abide by the motto of ‘Pound the Pavement’ when it came to bringing in top-level players to compete at the OUA level.
In Ovey’s fourth season in charge of the men’s program, the squad picked up their ﬁrst win in OUA competition against the Waterloo Warriors. A result that took the likes of the OUA’s top programs upwards of 6 years to achieve. A positive alignment of results (a win and several draws) for the season against the likes of those in the OUA Western Conference, the Algoma Thunderbirds, under Ovey’s guidance, could conﬁdently say that what they have built over the past 4 years was positively coming to fruition in more ways than one. This would also mark Algoma’s ﬁnal season as an indoor competitive team as Ovey’s vision would be solely focused on OUA competition. That said, in their ﬁnal year of indoor competition, the men would see themselves come 3rd place in the league and a semi-ﬁnal exit in the playoffs to the eventual champions.
In year 5-7 for Ovey, the men’s team would spend their seasons picking up similar results from the years prior; a mix of wins and several draws. Most notably, a win against Western University would top the charts as far as results are concerned. What’s more noteworthy would be the fact that Ovey was able to attract players from all over the province to come and play for the university. A position, now, that the university is ever-grateful for. In Ovey’s 8th and ﬁnal season with the men, he guided them to a win against the #8 ranked team in the nation, McMaster University, while also pulling results from Waterloo University and Brock University. More than that, he was able to build a team almost entirely based off those who he recruited in the off-season.
Ovey’s 8 seasons in charge of the men’s soccer program evidently had plenty of ups and downs. While this reality rings true for any program who is just starting-out, the groundwork that Ovey laid for Algoma Soccer is unprecedented and unwavering. A true commitment made by Ovey now see’s him leaving a men’s program in a much better position than when they ﬁrst began. From a starting point of nil, Ovey, and those who he brought in, were able to create something rather special. A small community of 75,000 residents and a university of 1,200 students over the past 8 years, Ovey has been nothing short of spectacular in his time with the men’s soccer program. Coaching, often a thankless job, has saw Ovey propel many male student-athletes to graduation and helped them pursue the careers of their dreams as well as helping mould them into the people they have become. When we look back in 5, 10, 15, 30, 50 years from now, it’ll be noted that Algoma University Soccer started ‘somewhere’.
That ‘somewhere’ was virtually ﬁlled with a lot of emptiness, trials/tribulations, difﬁcult moments, and tests of will. The mere fact that there was one face who was able to guide the program during this 8-year period is nothing short of remarkable. While the face of the men’s soccer program is departing, Ovey will still be putting in his work just the same. With a greater attention to detail on the women’s program, Ovey now has a new sense of direction in his coaching career.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Never forget where you started”. If it wasn’t for Coach Ovey, it’s reasonable to conclude that nothing would have been started at all. Thank you, coach, and best of luck in this next chapter.