By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer
While, on the surface, the Dayton athletic program might not be as internationally renowned as other top-tier, major-conference schools, that hasn’t stopped head coach Mike Tucker from reaching beyond the border to attract talent for the women’s soccer team at UD. This season’s roster features four players from Ontario, Canada—a region that Tucker has grown quite fond of over his 21 seasons at Dayton.
Senior midfielder Nicole Waters, who is from the greater Toronto area, is one of his most prized recruits. Now leading the defending Atlantic 10 champions, Waters was also integral in Tucker’s recent Canadian recruiting success.
“I probably spent as much time recruiting Nicole as I have anyone,” Tucker said of Waters. “I instantly thought she was a great player, so we really got after her.”
The process was facilitated by the fact that Tucker knew Waters’ club coach well, easing the transition for her from club to collegiate soccer.
Recruiting north of the border, though, was nothing new to Tucker as he scouted Waters.
“I’ve been recruiting in Canada for a long time, so we’ve had a number of [Canadian players],” Tucker said. “This was a result of me having been up there a lot as a club coach and forging a lot of good relationships with club coaches. That’s what recruiting is all about—relationships—and people you can trust to give you good information.”
Soon, Waters became one of those trusted people for Tucker as she introduced him to Ashley Campbell.
Campbell, now a senior forward with the Flyers, was a teammate (and rival) of Waters well before their moves to Dayton.
“We actually played for the provincial team together, but when our club season started we played against each other,” Waters said of her acquaintance with Campbell back in Canada.
“The two of them were best buds, but when I got ahold of Ashley it was kind of late in the process,” Tucker said. “So we were just very fortunate to get them both.”
In fact, Campbell was with Waters when she finalized her decision to become a Flyer. “I was talking to Nicole on the phone,” Tucker explained, “and she put Ashley on the phone and Ashley committed to me at Nicole’s house.”
Since then, the two have grown even closer while each cementing themselves among the all-time Flyer greats. Campbell currently ranks second on the all-time scoring list for UD with 57 goals, just one shy of first place.
And Waters has 48 career assists, good for second all-time in that category. Both Waters and Campbell trail Colleen Williams, who graduated in 2012, on the lists.
After the successes of Campbell and Waters, Tucker recruited two additional Canadians for this year’s freshman class. Midfielder Keagin Collie and defender Nadia Pestell, also from the Toronto area, have both received substantial playing time this season.
Collie ended up at Dayton in a similar way to Campbell—through the influence of Waters.
“I talked to Nicole [before I came],” Collie said. “We had the same club coach.”
“Our club coach asked me to come to one of their training sessions over the summer, and that was before [Collie] committed,” Waters explained. “And I went up to one of their training sessions and talked about my school and experience and then she committed!”
Waters joked that she then bragged to Tucker about how successful she was as a recruiter, with her ability to attract Campbell and Collie.
Throughout this whole process, Tucker and UD have benefitted from the system of collegiate athletics in the states, which greatly differs from the Canadian system.
“There are very few [collegiate] women’s soccer programs in Canada,” Tucker said. “And the ones that [exist], aren’t really competitive. So the better players want to come to the states and play.”
Because of Toronto’s proximity to major U.S. cities and overall accessibility to and from the U.S., it creates an easier transition for the players that do decide to come here.
Between their grade school and high school years, young players in southern Ontario have many opportunities to play in the states with their club soccer teams. Toronto is less than two hours from Buffalo, New York, and less than four hours from Detroit.
“And if you think about it, the Toronto area really isn’t that far [from Dayton],” Tucker said.
Campbell said her drive to campus is approximately seven hours.
“I live closer than some other players on my team who are from the U.S.,” she said.
At this point in Tucker’s career, recruiting from Ontario is almost easier than attracting players from major U.S. cities.
“The Toronto area in particular has millions of people, so there’s bound to be a lot of good players,” Tucker said. “It’s like going to any big city, and we feel like in that area the better players are going to consider us right away because [Ashley and Nicole] went here and have had success.”
Tucker’s longtime Canadian connections are paying off big time, and he’s set a precedent for other mid-sized, stateside schools.
“I think there have been a lot of schools that have realized the success that we’ve had with Canadians and have started recruiting up there,” he said.
Tucker has thought about broadening his search beyond Ontario as a result.
“I was up in Quebec, recruiting in the Montreal area, and it’s not as strong but there’s still a lot of very good players,” he said. “So we’ll continue to go up there and recruit it as hard as we can. We’d like to get out more to the west coast but it just hasn’t fit our schedule yet.”
But before you see any Vancouver Flyers take the pitch, Tucker already has more Ontario players slated to arrive.
“We have three more coming in next year and one more in 2017,” he said. “We’re recruiting the heck out of it.”
For now, though, the four Ontarians are a fitting showcase of Toronto’s soccer talent and Tucker’s Canuck connections.
Go Flyers, eh?
Photo: From left: Keagin Collie, Nadia Pestell, Nicole Waters and Ashley Campbell all hail from the Canadian province of Ontario. Chris Santucci/Multimedia Editor