St. Clair women’s soccer program adds trio of recruits from L’Essor high school

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One recruiting stop paid off in a big way for St. Clair Saints women’s head soccer coach Steve Vagnini.

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In his second tour with the team after being hired in April, Vagnini got a late start to recruiting, but was all smiles on Thursday after landing a trio of recruits from L’Essor high school.

“Cahleen (Mulvey, the L’Essor head coach) was really helpful,” Vagnini said. “She let me talk to the graduating kids and they didn’t know about St. Clair. We were able to discuss what we had to offer.

“They found courses they were really interested in and made it work. This is a good thing for all of us.”

On Thursday, Airika Natyshak, Sydnie Lucier and Angelica Petro were at the SportsPlex to officially sign on.

“I did not know at the time, when I made my decision, that other (two) had chosen the same path,” the 17-year-old Petri said. “However, when I found out, as you can imagine, I was very happy to know we could continue to develop as a team.”

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Petro and Natyshak have been friends since junior kindergarten and quickly became close friends with Lucier when the trio reached high school and the three also play club soccer together in Belle River.

“I think this experience had a big impact in my decision because we’re comfortable with each other’s playing styles,” the 17-year-old Lucier said. “I am excited with the opportunity to continue playing and developing with a few familiar teammates.”

Vagnini said all three were looking at university programs before he got a chance to speak with them and show what St. Clair had to offer.

“After meeting Steve and looking into the programs that St. Clair had to offer, I wished I had explored it sooner,” said Natyshak, who was looking to study biomedical science at university. “There are diverse health science programs that lead directly to a job after graduation.”

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But while the school had plenty to offer, Petro also did her homework on Vagnini and what he had done as a coach.

“I hadn’t yet made a decision when coach Vagnini approached me at one of our games and spoke to me about the possibility of playing soccer for St. Clair College,” Petro said. “I was very excited at the possibility of continuing playing soccer and studying nursing at the same time. The possibility of being able to pursue my two passions was a dream come true.”

Vagnini, who returned to the team in April, previously guided the Saints from November of 2013 to April of 2017. In just the second year after reviving the indoor program, the Saints won gold at the OCAA championship and added a silver medal two years later. In 2015, St. Clair earned the school’s first outdoor medal in 15 years with a bronze at the OCAA championship. Along the way, Vagnini earned conference coach of the year honours three times as well as being named Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association coach of the year in 2015.

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“I did not know coach Steve, but I did do some research and found out what a great coach he is and has been,” Petro said. “He also was very approachable, ready to answer any questions and helped me through the process.”

Petro and Lucier are both centre midfielders while Natyshak is a defender.

“Angelica and Sydnie caught my attention right away,” Vagnini said. “You can tell they’re hardworking, talented and coachable kids and I went to watch (Natyshak) at OFSAA and she’s just a big defender with good size and we can work with that.”

The trio helped L’Essor to a girls’ AA title at WECSSAA and SWOSSAA along with a berth in the medal round at OFSAA.

“I don’t know much about OCAA-level soccer, but I have high expectations,” Natyshak said. “I am extremely excited to take my soccer career to the next level and I hope to make friends and experiences that I will have for a lifetime.”

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Saints women’s basketball

Also on Thursday, the St. Clair women’s basketball team added Kennedy high school product Nyra Brown-Henderson to the program for the 2022-23 season.

The 5-foot-10 Brown-Henderson has club experience with the Windsor Valiants and Baron United.

“Nyra is a fantastic athlete with a high-level motor to match,” Saints’ head coach Andy Kiss said in a release. “With her length and athleticism, she can guard multiple positions on the floor. She will, no doubt, be an impact player in our defensive scheme.”

Capable of playing small forward or guard, she was named bested defensive player at Kennedy.

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