London soccer: Azzurri masters women’s team heads to nationals

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The London Marconi Azzurri masters women’s soccer team doesn’t get to play together often.

But when they do, they make it count.

The over-30 side qualified for the national masters championship for the third straight year after beating the Grand River Rangers 3-2 in the Ontario final Sunday at Birchmount Stadium. The Steve Hepton-coached squad will head to Edmonton Sept. 22-24 after finishing third a year ago in Winnipeg.

“We want to do better than we did there,” captain Holly Fairweather said. “We have (been waiting). We’re ready.”

Cristina Bonasia scored twice, including the winner in the 74th minute, after Grand River rallied to tie the game early in the second half. The Rangers played two games to reach the final.

London, however, was on a one-shot deal. The Azzurri received a first-round bye, then walked over in its semifinal because the Byron Fury couldn’t field enough players at a match scheduled in North York.

“It was a little bit (nerve-wracking),” Fairweather said. “It would’ve been nice to play the semifinal game. We don’t get to play together a lot. We’re all on different clubs and we have some players from Toronto, Sarnia and Windsor. But we’ve known each other a long time and whenever we do get to play together, we get really excited.

“So (a long layoff) doesn’t affect us that much.”

Even a goaltending shortage wasn’t a major hurdle.

When London was left without a keeper this season, Katherine Esch stepped between the posts to help out.

“She isn’t normally a goalie and she’s worked hard at that position,” Fairweather said. “She’s a great athlete and you would never have known she wasn’t (a regular keeper). We’re super-proud of her.”

The Azzurri became the second team to win three consecutive provincial titles at the women’s masters level. The Rexdale Reunited Elites captured three straight from 2008-10 as part of a run of four Cups in five years, interrupted only by the London White Eagles in 2011.  

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