It is often said that greatness is measured by one’s ability to overcome adversity, especially when speaking of the importance of resiliency. Fresh off his seventh Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Coach of the Year award, Carmine Isacco reflects on his team’s and his personal achievements, but says he would give up all of his accolades for his team to be at nationals.
Looking back to this season, the York men’s soccer coach refused to make excuses for his team’s heartbreaking loss to the Guelph Gryphons in the OUA championship game.
“No, I wouldn’t use that as an excuse by any means,” Isacco says, referring to last season’s cancellation. “We had a lot of opportunities to play games during the pandemic, not through the university system, but other systems. I think our preparation and everything was okay. Obviously missing a competitive year and having that lack of continuity hurt everyone, but I don’t think that was exclusive to us. That was general to every group and every team.”
When questioned about his “no excuses” demeanour, Isacco chuckled, “Exactly, I don’t want to make excuses. We need to be mentally tough. You’re only as good as your next game, and our next game, regardless of what we did in the regular season, was Guelph, and we weren’t good enough — from our goalkeeper to our eighteenth player.”
Isacco was not the only Lion to point out the team’s downfall against Guelph. Fourth-year striker and Player of the Year in the east division Dieu Merci Yuma shares similar sentiments, “We were definitely the better team, they were just able to capitalize on our mistakes. That game was won on mistakes, and they were mistakes from our end. It’s still really tough when I think about it. But that’s how football goes — or any sport for that matter — sometimes the best teams lose.”
The regret in his voice was clear, as he recalls the moments where the team lost focus and the exact moment the Gryphons capitalized on them. Yuma believes that it was these moments that decided the fate of the game. Going into the game, the Lions felt confident, and this confidence was certainly backed by their impressive track record and statistics.
With the return of U Sports this year, so too did the Lion’s dominance over the OUA. They finished the regular season first in their division, continuing a decade-long streak, and top four provincially in all major statistical categories (shots, points, goals, assists, and goals allowed). Yuma played a significant role in the team’s success, leading the province in shots, goals, and points. His staggering 14 goals and 19 points in only 12 games earned him OUA and U Sports first-team honours as well as OUA East Player of the Year.
The young phenom was gracious despite his success, explaining, “It feels good to be recognized individually, but it would not be possible without my teammates. When a player is recognized individually it just means they had a good support system and for me, that was the team. So without them, and all the help I got on and off the field, none of that would be possible.”
That “support system” Yuma mentioned consisted of an additional four divisional all-stars; midfielders Soji Olatoye and Emmanuel Zambazis, defender Jadon Vilfort and goalkeeper George Tzimas. Tzimas, who began the year in crutches — having torn both his ACL and MCL in mid-2020 — emerged as the undisputed starting goalkeeper, posting a .743 goals-against average, a .824 save percentage, and collecting six shutouts through 12 games (second provincially in all categories). In simpler terms, this means he was one to watch out for on the field.
When asked about the uncertainty around his health going into this season, the fourth-year commerce major described a physically and emotionally trying previous year. “My team was still training and I couldn’t do anything but watch from the sidelines, worried about how it would impact my future and this season.” Tzimas went on to explain the mental strain of his injury coupled with the pandemic. He says that the pandemic gave him the opportunity to push all of his worries to the back of his mind and focus solely on getting back into shape for next season.
Upon learning that there would be a season this year, Tzimas remembers telling himself, “I need to come back and prove myself.” When asked what these past two years have taught him, not just as a player but as a person, he responded with one word: “resilience.”