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Holding Court

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor

Photos: Niagara University

Goal scorers score goals. That’s where they make their living. That’s how they put food on the table. Attackers on the pitch are asked to the lead the team, lead the charge, every single game.

No one knew what to expect from Niagara University soccer player Florence Vaillancourt. The junior had an ok start to her college career, but this season she exploded. Every time the Purple Eagles would get on the scoreboard it seemed like it was Vaillancourt who was on the scoresheet.

If she wasn’t scoring goals, Vaillancourt was setting up her teammates. It was a breakout performance for someone that the MAAC really didn't know anything about. Vaillancourt entered Niagara a little younger than everyone else, and she was battling some knee problems. Last year, while the team played five games, Vaillancourt participated in two - because of Covid restrictions.

“My first two years here were hard mentally and physically. I came into college being a full year younger than everyone else in my freshman class since the school system is different at home. I was also out for close to a year until preseason back in August 2019 due to multiple knees injuries and problems which put me in a difficult situation having the age gap and health complications against me,” explained Vaillancourt. “I had to work hard to get back into it and in my best shape to actually be able to compete and show what I can really do. It took a little bit more time than expected since Covid happened as well, but I am proud of the efforts I put in and I am glad to be back and better and finally be able to show what I can do with the help of my teammates. I think this year’s overall success thus far is just a reward for the work my teammates and I have been doing for the past year despite everything happening in the world.”

Vaillancourt isn’t worried about her numbers. Sure they great (13 goals, 10 assists) during a tremendous junior campaign. What she was worried most about this season was team success. The Purple Eagles came into the year not regarded very high between everyone in the MAAC. They weren’t expected to do much.

Instead of listening to those expectations, the Purple Eagles set their now. Vaillancourt just happened to be along for the ride. While she was gaining all the headlines, Vaillancourt was happier for the team success.

“I appreciate you guys recognizing that but honestly, I am always more than happy to get a great team win whatever my performance is and how I can contribute to it. The feeling of scoring an important goal or assisting one to one of my teammates is the same to me since the result in the end is the same,” stated Vaillancourt. “I am very lucky to have a team like ours behind me because no great forward can do the work alone, it comes from everyone working hard and supporting me in any way they can. My teammates put me in position to score as often as I can, and it is only my job to put it at the back of the net. I also am really proud of my peers to be so efficient in the box, we have multiple girls who know how to score goals and the points from my assists are from them having this great ability as well. I think other teams can worry about me all they want, but they will get caught by the rest of our super talented players if they do so.”

It’s pretty impressive what Vaillancourt did this season. It’s not easy having all the pressure on you to score goals and perform at the highest level game in and game out. Some players can crumble under the pressure, while others thrive.

Vaillancourt was one of those that was thriving even though she knew others teams would start to game plan against her. Early on in the season no one knew who she was. As the goals started coming, so did the pressure to perform each game day.

“I always stay as positive as I can whatever happens of the field. I truly trust and believe in everyone on this team, so I know we all got each other’s back to push and encourage our peers towards our goal, which is always winning. I also like to do positive visualization and honestly, if you think you can do it, you will,” stated Vaillancourt. “I have learned with time to stay calmed and composed and focus on my game. You cannot control what other teams will do but you can control how you react to adversity, challenges, pressure and stress which is why having a positive mentality and trusting your teammates is important to get the best results.”

She is also confident in her abilities on the pitch. The first two years wasn’t a true sample of what Vaillancourt could do. Between getting acclimated to college life, injuries and Covid, Vaillancourt wasn’t herself.

She sprung to life her junior year, and people go to see why she was highly recruited coming from Quebec.

“I am confident in my abilities, and I know how to recognize my strengths. We also do a lot of videos and analyze how I can get passed the opponents successfully while still keeping my style of play. However, some games become more of a “teammates” related game, where I have to just step aside and do my job in order to put other people in dangerous positions and create different scoring opportunities. It is all about strategy, but we have been able to deal with it pretty well as a team since we have many powerful players,” stated Vaillancourt. “I had multiple Division I offers and I visited a couple of them. However, I really fell in love with Niagara’s campus, its location closer to home, the small size of the school, and coach’s future plan and vision for the team. I am glad I made this decision, the people I have met here and created lifelong friendships with are a big reason for it. Our team truly became my family and my home away from home. We go through a roller coaster of emotions together and live crazy memories together, I am very grateful for them all.”

She is also grateful for the education she is receiving at Niagara. It can’t be easy sometimes being a student-athlete. Always trying to find time to study, while also going to practice and games.

But, Vaillancourt is just as determined off the pitch as she is on it. She knows soccer won’t be there for ever. She also knows that without the grades she won’t be able to play. So, Vaillancourt attacks the classroom like she would attack a defender 1v1.

“I am an international business management major and pre-law minor; my grades are really important to me since I want to go to law school after I graduate. You just must keep your priorities straight in order to be able to succeed both at school and on the field with our busy schedule with practices, games, away trips,” stated Vaillancourt. “I think balance is very important too, you still have to find time for yourself and take care of you while doing different activities that you enjoy and spend time with friends. I also am grateful for the faculty at Niagara University, they are super understanding and supportive with our busy sports schedules and we always find a way to be successful at school at the same time.”

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