NORTH BAY, Ont. - It should be a team that will grow and mesh together over the next four years.
St. Marys area native Neil Van De Walle, 19, is a freshman striker with the Nipissing University Lakers men’s varsity soccer team. Lakers recently began workouts, and their first exhibition games were this past Sunday, Aug. 25. Their OUA regular-season opener was Sept. 1.
“The workouts are going good,” Van De Walle said when reached by cell phone. “We’re a young team. We don’t have many older guys, and we can all grow together. It will be a good thing, for sure.
“All the new recruits are pretty talented players. The soccer is another step up.”
Other universities that Nipissing plays in the OUA’s East Conference include: Queen’s, Carleton, Ottawa, University of Toronto, Ryerson, Trent in Peterborough, Royal Military College (RMC), and Laurentian in Sudbury.
There are no cross-over games against the West Conference schools until the playoffs. Coach of the Lakers is Carlo DeVuono.
Five-year career at St. Mikes
Van De Walle attended Stratford St. Michael secondary school for the past five years, and was always a key member of the Warriors’ soccer teams. He joined the Senior boys squad in Grade 10. This past spring, the Warriors’ Senior boys won WOSSAA and then hosted OFSAA. He also tasted OFSAA competition with St. Mikes in 2010.
Following the 2012-13 school year, Van De Walle was named Warriors’ male athlete-of-the-year.
The shifty striker also spent the past two summers playing in the Western Ontario Soccer League (WOSL) with St. Marys Juggernauts. As a rookie in 2012, Van De Walle scored 10 goals--making him one of the top scorers in the competitive First Division.
Before heading to North Bay, his last game with Juggernauts this summer was a recent thrilling 2-1 win over the first-place London Olympians AEK.
“It definitely helped me playing for the Juggernauts,” Van De Walle said. “Playing against those teams, the players are bigger and stronger than what I was used to playing (minor soccer) in London.”
He added that Juggernauts’ coaches John Flanagan and Gord Moylan helped him make the adjustment to playing men’s soccer in the WOSL. “Before playing (full-time) for the Juggernauts, they brought me up for a couple of games, just so I could get a little taste of it,” he said.
While playing high school soccer, Van De Walle credits St. Mikes coaches Bart Drennan and Keith Donnelly for helping with his development as well.
“They were probably two of the best coaches I’ve had,” he said. “They definitely know their stuff.”
--Neil Van De Walle is studying business administration at Nipissing.
--Van De Walle comes from a soccer-playing family. His sister Jaynie, 22, is a member of the North London Galaxy, which won the nationals in Winnipeg last year. She is one of the top scorers in her league, as well.
--Their parents are Paul and Maureen Van De Walle, of RR6 St. Marys.
--Juggernauts’ striker teammate Dominic Pieroni recently had a tryout with Brock University Badgers in St. Catharines.