Durham soccer coaches named Ontario’s best

Alex Bianchi (left) and Dave Ashfield are this year's recipients of the OCAA women's and men's teams coach of the year awards. Photo credit: Durham Athletics

When Dave Ashfield brought Alex Bianchi to Durham in 2014 to help him coach the men’s soccer team, he knew he was getting an excellent assistant coach. For two-and-a-half seasons they worked closely together to help the men’s team grow.

Ashfield also knew Bianchi had the ability to be a head coach.

Turns out he was right.

In fact, they are both being recognized for their coaching ability.

For the first time in Durham’s athletics history, both soccer coaches have been named Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) coach of the year, Ashfield for guiding the men’s team, Bianchi the women.

Ashfield led the men to an unbeaten 8-0-4 regular season, before finishing fifth at the OCAA championships. Bianchi piloted the women to a 10-2-1 regular season and a bronze medal at the OCAAs.

Durham athletic director Ken Babcock says he is proud of these seasoned soccer coaches.

Babcock says their past provincial, club and regional experience has meshed well with the college system.

“They’ve experienced a great deal of success at the college level in a short period of time,” says Babcock.

This is the second time Ashfield has won top OCAA coach honours in five years.

And the kicker of the season ‑ Ashfield is also a first-time nominee for Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association (CCAA) coach of the year award.

Ashfield is being recognized at a national level, an honour Babcock says adds a large value of reputation for the coach, program and DC.

Bianchi says Ashfield “wants to succeed, he’s probably the biggest DC fan in the school, it’s always Durham first, he’s a great ambassador.”

Bianchi says when he joined Ashfield as an assistant on the men’s team they enjoyed an easy coaching relationship with common goals.

When the women’s soccer team needed a new coach in the middle of the 2016 season, Bianchi jumped at the chance. Becoming a head coach in the college ranks was a role Bianchi says he wanted. Bianchi says Ashfield was always supportive and encouraged him to take the opportunity, calling the men’s coach his biggest cheerleader.

Karen Michalicka, an assistant coach on the women’s team, says Bianchi is a dedicated and passionate coach.

The team has come a long way since Bianchi took over coaching duties. According to Babcock, in three years’ time, the team has gone from not winning a game, to qualifying for the OCAA championships last year to winning bronze at the provincials this year.

“This program is definitely on the right path and we’re extremely proud of Alex, the women’s soccer program and the student-athletes who make up that team,” Babcock says.

Bianchi isn’t big on individual awards because he would prefer to recognize the team as a whole. He says it simply “validates what we’re trying to do and shows we’re going in the right direction.”

Michalicka says she’s pleased the coaching and the soccer program have been acknowledged even though the team didn’t win the gold medal.

“It was good to be recognized [and] that it’s not necessarily the record you hold that constitutes coach of the year,” says Michalicka.

With their bronze medal as a new team benchmark, Bianchi says he wants to keep moving forward, with the ultimate goal of winning a provincial and national championship.