An original member of the League1 Ontario men's division, Kingston Clippers Soccer Club is now expanding into the 2016 women's division, and in doing so offers the highest level of women's soccer east of the Greater Toronto Area.
"Women's soccer has very strong presence in Kingston, and for that matter Eastern Ontario," said Clippers' technical director, Chris Eveleigh.
"In fact, 65% of our coaching staff is female. I've never heard of another club in Ontario, or the world for that matter, where more than half of the coaches are women," he added.
Caitlin Barton, Women's Section Technical Lead
In the past, top women Kingston players have faced long commutes if they wanted to play for the top teams in the region, mainly focused in the Ottawa area several hours away.
"In this region the big league is the L3 regional league based around Ottawa, but when we looked at the best fit for the Clippers women's team we thought why not invest in League1 Ontario, and put the girls in the limelight," said Eveleigh.
"In the past, many of our players have participated in teams that required them to travel for hours just for training etc. Our players have said they want to play at a high level, and want to stay in the region as well, where we now have everything we need in terms of facilities, professional staff, and players."
Conversely, Eveleigh says interest in being involved in the club's League1 teams is now coming from players based in the Ottawa area, or throughout smaller Eastern Ontario communities. While the club will look to incorporate the best talent they can find into the teams, there is clear focus on the benefits of stocking the roster with homegrown products.
Chris Eveleigh, Kingston Clippers Technical Director
"We have a very strong group of girls born in '99, and this year we expect to graduate at least four or five of them into League1," said Eveleigh.
" At this point, our interest is more to give women's players in Eastern Ontario an opportunity, rather than looking to win league titles. We're in this to showcase players and show that Kingston is not just a small town on the map."
"We have found on the men's side as well that although we attract journeymen players that have great playing experience, putting local players on the pitch often leads to better performances with more fight and more passion," he added.
"The local players are representing the area they come from, whereas the ones that are brought in can just leave and go on to other things. In our women's section, we have a quality group of players at the top that have been trained and bought into our philosophy of retaining the ball and playing out of the back, and a lengthy pipeline of talent rising through the ranks for the future."
Eveleigh points to a solid management structure that will equally benefit both men's and women's sections in 2016.
"Christian Hoefler, our men's coach, will also be training the women's team in 2016," said Eveleigh. "Myself and Paul Quinnell will be involved with both the men's and women's teams, and some of our women's coaches will be involved as well, of course, but in many cases they don't have the level of coaching license just yet to be the head coach for the top level. Still, we're working with some very good coaches here, and would like to bring in more of the women's coaching talent from the area as we move forward."
Clippers have wrought several important partnerships with the universities and colleges in the area, with Queen's men's head coach Christian Hoefler leading the men's team in 2015, and taking further involvement with the women's team in 2016. Further, the community as a whole has already been stoked on the benefits of the program through the successes of Queen's University and St. Lawrence College.
"On the women's side, Queen's University have had the same coach in Dave McDowell for some time, and he has fantastic support from the community after the good work he has done," explained Eveleigh.
"As a result, there is already very robust support for women's soccer in Kingston, and the contributions of the St. Lawrence soccer program have been important to the continued growth of support here as well. We're expecting sizable support for our women's games, and think Kingston will be just as difficult a place to come for the opposition as it is on the men's side."
"As we have some great partnerships with St. Lawrence College women's soccer program, and the Queen's University men's and women's programs, so the Clippers women's team will be a natural extension of what we are already doing," summarized Eveleigh.
As a technical director, Eveleigh is understandably positive about the opportunity that League1 Ontario offers to showcase the area's talented players. However, he is perhaps even more excited about the continued development it offers to all Clippers' and Kingston-based programs.
"Our women's players will all be involved in coaching our younger age levels," he concluded.
"It's incredible, really. We had a meeting with the team last week, and every single one of our women's players expressed a clear intent on giving back by being involved as coaches. This is a win-win scenario for our club and region."