By: Monty Mosher
Success is always in the eye of the beholder.
The Cape Breton Capers women's soccer had an undefeated season a year ago before losing the national final to the Montreal Carabins in Manitoba.
For conference MVP and all-Canadian midfielder Ciera Disipio, the goal last season was to earn a national medal. Any medal, or so it seemed, would be just fine.
"But when we got there and we won the first game we were like, 'We could win this.' We looked at each other and we were like, 'We could win this whole tournament and finish the top of the country.' It was almost like a surreal feeling when we won the second game and we were going into the championship. We were like, 'We are playing for the national gold medal. This is insane.'"
But they had to accept a silver medal after the Carabins won 1-0. It is, as Disipio noted, the only medal of the three that comes after a defeat.
"There was a lot of disappointment amongst the team initially when we won the medal," she said. "But at the end of the day I think for most of us, and I know I don't just speak for myself, there was so much pride after winning that silver medal and having that opportunity to play in the national championship. Just having that was a privilege."
So, amid the disappointment, there was perspective.
"Winning the silver medal, although disappointing in some senses, it was a big win for us. Coming from a small island like Cape Breton, we just put our name on the map all across Canada."
The new AUS soccer regular season begins Friday with the Capers opening defence of their banner on Saturday afternoon at home against UNB. The national-champion Capers men's team also opens Saturday making it a particularly memorable opening day in Sydney.
Disipio, a 20-year-old community studies from Ottawa, had to say so long to some teammates after last season. Head coach Ness Timmons will have to work some new faces into his team this year.
"But we are really lucky to have a core group of girls coming back, especially ones that have played at such a high level," Disipio said. "I think most of us use that loss last November to fuel us for the next season."
It is not a new team ethos. In Disipio's sophomore season, a powerful CBU team lost in the conference semifinals to St. Francis Xavier, leaving the Capers out of the nationals. That created a fervor to be better in 2017 and not let another chance slip.
"We knew we wanted to win the AUS. We knew we had a job to get done. Everyone was on the same page. It became easy to work together to get that common goal."
Timmons is happy to see Disipio back to resume the chase for a national title.
"Ciera has become a real leader with the Capers," said Timmons. "She is a returning captain with plenty of experience.
"She leads as a great player on the field, but more importantly, it is what she does in quiet unselfish ways off the field that really makes her special to this team."
This summer, the team focus switched to motivating the new players to follow in the tradition of the ones who have just left.
"It's a new team, but it doesn't mean we can't have the same success this year. We used it as a way of sparking a fire within us."
As is the case with the CBU men, the Capers will be targeted in every game.
"When you are at the top, everyone wants to knock you off," Disipio said. "You are the team to beat. But it's not a bad place to be. It's how you accept that pressure and expectation. For us, it's about never being complacent. Once you are at the top you almost have to work twice as hard as you did to get there in order to stay there.
"I think a lot of us have come in with that mentality and it has become contagious. We embrace being the team to beat because it only makes us better."
Disipio's own road to Cape Breton began in Grade 9 when she met Timmons at a soccer showcase event in Toronto. She said one of the CBU coach's great strengths is an ability to make a first impression.
She had thoughts of playing in the NCAA, but Timmons was relentless. Disipio's parents proved to be an ally in the cause. They liked Canadian university sport and a Canadian university education.
She had a bit of a connection to the school. Her uncle, Carlo, played for the Capers football team, earning conference rookie of the year, in the team's lone season in 1990.
Ciera made a recruiting a visit with some other players from Toronto she didn't know at the time. They are all still there.
"Our entire stay in Cape Breton was just so personal. It was different from any school I had ever talked to and anywhere I'd been on campus. It felt unique. You felt like you had more of a purpose."
She knew what was she was going to find on the soccer pitch. She'd done her homework. But the cultural and campus experience made her know she was making the right choice for her. She signed her letter of intent to come to CBU a month after her visit.
"I'm thankful I made that decision because I think I made the right one."
She fit in quickly. She was AUS top rookie in 2015 as the Capers won the conference only to lose their opener at the nationals.