How York Lions soccer became a powerhouse with Carmine Isacco

Carmine Isacco coaching header

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

Over the course of 17 seasons, Master Coach Carmine Isacco has guided the York University Lions men’s and women’s soccer program into becoming one of the best – not just in the province of Ontario, but in all of Canada. The secret to the Lions’ long-term success during Isaaco’s tenure hasn’t just been about talent and athleticism, but factors found off the soccer pitch, too.

When Isacco decided in 2007 to join York University to coach the Lion’s men’s soccer team, he did so for one reason more than any other: potential. He saw it in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and its leagues, the student-athletes circling York at the time, as well as the growth of the game and program at the University. “I’d like to unlock that potential,” he thought.

Carmine Isacco
Carmine Isacco

Seventeen seasons later and Isacco has succeeded, becoming a coaching star of an accomplished soccer program. Over the course of his York career, the Lions men’s team has won six OUA championships and earned four national championships out of 10 appearances. They have also won provincial medals in 12 of the 13 years Isacco has led the program and finished first in the OUA West Division in each of his 13 seasons. Most recently, the Lions earned silver in a tough OUA championship loss and were victorious in the national U Sports consolation final. Since also taking on the women’s soccer team in 2015, Isacco has guided that team to consistent high rankings and an OUA championship in 2019.

Isacco’s efforts have made him a six-time recipient of the OUA men’s coach of the year award, two-time recipient of the OUA women’s coach of the year award, a two-time U SPORTS coach of the year and a three-time York coach of the year.

When looking back at the success and growth of the program, Isacco credits several factors for its trajectory. Among them is the first squad he coached in 2008 – “Generation One,” as he calls them – whom he praises for re-establishing the men’s program at York and setting a precedent by winning a national championship. “They really set the tone for what the standards were and what the next group of student-athletes had to live up to and strive for,” says Isacco.

The precedent and spirit of that team has been carried forward, not just with a benchmark to emulate, but with Generation One players becoming part of the program over time. For example, Luca Forno, captain of the Lions from 2007 to 2009, has been an associate coach for the team since 2010 and his former teammate Jamaal Smith has also been an assistant coach in the past.

Isacco also credits the soccer program’s out-of-the-gate success and accomplishment since to York’s unwavering support. “York never swayed from its commitment to our soccer program, both men’s and women’s,” says Isacco. The University’s ongoing investment in facilities, all-year-round programming, scouting for exceptional technical ability and athleticism, the York Lions Stadium and off-season Dome, and year-round support have been critical to the teams’ success under Isacco’s leadership. “Without that belief and investment from the athletic director and the people above the staff managers, it would have been very difficult for us to grow.”

More than material investment, what has also been critical to the program’s growth is the morale investment from York. “It’s the words of encouragement; it’s the handshake. Those things are so important for the student-athletes to feel that connection to the school,” Isaaco says. Even former York Lions will reach out to current ones before big playoff games to provide words of motivation.

Members of the York Lions men's soccer squad which won back-to-back OUA Championships in 2017 and 2018
Members of the York Lions men’s soccer squad, which won back-to-back OUA championships in 2017 and 2018.

As for his own impact on the success of the York Lions throughout his time at the University, Isacco has cultivated a holistic coaching approach that has influence on and off the field.

“There’s a higher purpose to doing this for me that is important. It’s not about winning. It’s about being proud of what you’ve done and how you’ve made people around you better,” he says.

For him, that comes through adopting values and responsibilities that ensure positive outcomes – like commitment, ownership, accountability. “All those things, they lead to winning, but more importantly they lead to good people. They lead to better fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters,” Isacco says.

It’s about developing accountability, too, he adds. “It’s important that people understand what we preach within our team and within our environment. Not only mental or emotional accountability, but with tactical schemes and their technical skills,” Isacco says.

Instilling those values into his players are important to Isacco, not just to ensure his teams are always full of athletes with strong character, but to ensure wherever they go after their York Lions career, they take those values with them. “It makes you more accountable to life. The field is like a microcosm for real life in the end,” he says.

“I hold my players to high standards. It’s not only necessary in the culmination of winning divisions or OUA and national championships, but it’s in being at your best. It’s being able to look yourself in the mirror and feel that fulfillment,” Isacco says.

After 17 seasons of transformative coaching, Isacco has built a legacy of triumph and positive change both on and off the field.

York hosts basketball tournament to promote BIPOC inclusion

womens lions basketball

York University will host a three-day tournament, Oct. 20 to 22, to promote greater inclusion of Black, Indigenous and racialized women in collegiate basketball.

The Athlete Women Empowered Classic is a U Sports women’s basketball tournament featuring teams from York, Concordia, Trinity Western and the University of Toronto – the only teams currently led by Black women coaches.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, York’s women’s basketball head coach Christa Eniojukan, along with Concordia’s Tenicha Gittens, Trinity Western’s Cheryl Jean-Paul and U of T’s Tamara Tatham, designed the pre-season tournament with the goal of establishing a pathway for BIPOC women to step into leadership roles in sport.

christa eniojukan and women's lions basketball
York University Lions women’s basketball head coach Christa Eniojukan.

In addition to the five-game schedule, the event held at York’s Keele Campus will offer workshops, panel discussions and networking session that provide opportunities to interact with coaches, athletes and industry leaders. Attendees will have the chance to observe top athletes showcasing their skills and competing in various awe-inspiring sports. From heart-pounding races to jaw-dropping stunts, this event promises non-stop action and unforgettable moments.

On Friday, Oct. 20, York will face Concordia for an 11 a.m. game, followed by a 1 p.m. game featuring Trinity Western and U of T.

On Saturday, Oct. 21 at 11 a.m., York will take on Trinity Western and at 1 p.m., U of T and Concordia will play each other.

The final day, Sunday, Oct. 22, will have an early start with a 9 a.m. game between Concordia and Trinity Western.

Tickets are free and are available online.

More about Christa Eniojukan

The York University Lions women’s basketball head coach has been coaching youth teams and student-athletes for more than a decade, most notably with Ontario’s U17 provincial team from 2014-17. 

In July, the former Lion guard (2003-05), who has won six national medals, including four gold, earned a silver as the head coach of Canada’s women’s team at the second annual GLOBL Jam, a tournament featuring some of the best U-23 talent in the world. The Lions boss is entering her third season at the helm.

Eniojukan and the Lions kick off their 2023-24 season on Nov. 3 when they welcome the Waterloo Warriors to Tait McKenzie Centre for a 6 p.m. tip.

Read more about Eniojukan here.

Calling all adventure seekers: explore outdoors through new recreation program

For York University students and community members looking to get active this semester, but don’t want to commit to the gym or a sports team, check out Athletics & Recreation’s new Outdoor Experience Program. Adventure seekers are invited to immerse themselves in Canadian culture beyond the York campuses, with staff taking participants by bus to off-campus locations to participate in a variety of outdoor activities, from hiking, treetop trekking and zip lining to horseback riding, skating and more.

The program’s first event, a hike at Crawford Lake, takes place on Oct. 6 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with the hike itself lasting 90 minutes. Travelling by bus, participants will head to Crawford Lake, part of Conservation Halton Parks, where they will explore the 15th-century Longhouse Village and experience what daily life was like for Indigenous people in the area over 600 years ago. Hikers can expect to see a variety of plants and animals, as well as the unique body of water of Crawford Lake. This is a great opportunity to meet new people, try something new, and get the health and well-being benefits of being active outdoors.

Other upcoming events in the series include:

  • Treetop Trekking, Oct. 27 (register by Oct. 13);
  • Horseback Riding, Nov. 12 (register by Oct. 29); and
  • Christmas Market and Skating, Dec. 8 (register by Nov. 24).

For more information about the Outdoor Experience Program, including pricing, and to register, visit the program website. The prices of the events cover transportation, entry to the experience, required equipment and a snack. All York University community members are welcome to participate.

Lion’s Cup golf tournament raises $154,000 for athletes

Yeo the Lion with a glub club on the Lions Cup 20th anniversary logo and banner

It was a successful day on the golf course Wednesday, May 31 as York University Athletics & Recreation raised $154,000 for athletic scholarships at the 20th annual Lions Cup, presented by TD Insurance.

Nearly 100 golf enthusiasts convened at the Wyndance Golf Club in Uxbridge, Ont., coming together with a mission to extend financial assistance to student-athletes. Notably, a number of York’s current student-athletes, who have similarly benefited from financial aid in their educational pursuits, actively interacted with the golfers.

Organizers led a variety of events on the course, such as the accuracy challenge and the longest-drive competition, all the while embracing the opportunity to establish valuable connections with professionals in their respective fields of study.

Participants in 20th annual Lions Cup golf tournament receive $154,000 cheque with mascot Yeo
From left: Janae Brown (track and field), Joselyn Gagliardi (women’s soccer), Jasmine Heath (track and field), David D’Agostino (men’s hockey), Guy Burry (co-chair, Lions Cup), Corrado Messina (senior relationship manager, Ontario Market Lead, TD Insurance), Bart Zemanek (associate director, advancement, Athletics & Recreation), Lucas Van Den Driesschen (track and field), Lexy Anonech (women’s hockey), Agostino Principato (men’s soccer), Nicholas Mohammed (summer intern, Athletics & Recreation)

Inaugurated as the Chair’s Cup in 2001, the Lions Cup carries a rich history. Its creators, Marshall Cohen, the former Chair of the York University Board of Governors, and his wife, Judi, had a visionary goal: to establish an event that not only generated funds but also cultivated bonds and backing among friends, alumni, and other supporters. Recent years have witnessed a notable shift in the tournament’s emphasis, now centred on bolstering varsity student-athletes by channeling all proceeds directly into athletic scholarships for the Lions.

The success of the scholarships is made possible through the generous contributions of both new and returning sponsors of this year’s tournament. Their support plays a vital role in promoting excellence in athletics and recreation, granting tomorrow’s athletes the opportunity to achieve their academic and athletic aspirations.

For a complete list of this year’s tournament sponsors and donors, please visit the tournament webpage.

C4 team receives teaching innovation award

Award stock image banner from pexels

Members of York University’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) team were awarded the 2023 D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), which recognizes post-secondary collaborative teams for their innovative approaches to promoting student-centered teaching and learning.

C4, launched in 2019, enables students to work on real-world challenges with social impact, promoting team-based collaboration, advanced research and design, critical and strategic thinking, and more.

The award was bestowed on those associated with C4’s innovative approach to pan-university interdisciplinary experiential education, including:

  • Danielle Robinson, co-founder and academic co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor in the Department of Dance;
  • Franz Newland, co-founder and co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor of Space Engineering;
  • Rachelle Campigotto, classroom coordinator assistant for C4 and contract faculty in the Faculty of Education;
  • Dana Craig, Libraries liaison for C4 and director of student learning and academic success in the Libraries;
  • Danielle Dobney, team culture strategist of C4 and assistant professor in Kinesiology and the Athletic Therapy Certificate program;
  • Andrea Kalmin, curriculum lead, classroom coordinator for C4 and adjunct faculty in the Department of Social Science;
  • Alice Kim, scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research lead for C4 and interim assistant program head for Psychology at the University of Guelph-Humber; and
  • Natasha May, Teaching Commons liaison for C4 and educational developer in York’s Teaching Commons.

The D2L Innovation Award is an international recognition, open to applicants from all countries. It evaluates and rewards innovations in pedagogical approaches, teaching methods, course design, curriculum development, assessment methods, and more. It is named after D2L, a cloud-based learning analytics platform.

Award recipients are invited to a retreat held the day of the pre-conference at STLHE’s Annual Conference. This retreat includes a facilitated session, lunch, and a social and learning excursion focused on innovation. At the conference they will be recognized at the Conference Awards Ceremony and receive a certificate in recognition of their work.

Edmonton Elks pick York Lions receiver for 2023 CFL season

Gabriel Appiah-Kubi banner image

Gabriel Appiah-Kubi, Lions receiver and social sciences student at York University, was drafted to the Edmonton Elks for the upcoming Canadian Football League (CFL) season.

Gabriel Appiah-Kubi  close-up portrait
Gabriel Appiah-Kubi

Among Appiah-Kubi’s many noteworthy achievements, he most recently made waves at the inaugural New Era 2023 CFL invitational combine in March, where he placed first in three different events, tied for second in a fourth, and secured his spot at the following national CFL combine.

At the March showcase, Appiah-Kubi posted a 4.48-second 40-yard dash time; a ten-foot-seven and five-eighths inches broad jump; a 37-inch vertical jump, a full inch higher than the runner-up; and a 4.25-second short shuttle, just seven hundredths of a second behind the first-place runner in that event.

Both the regional and national combines welcomed an array of CFL scouts, coaches and team managers, and Appiah-Kubi’s breakout performance at the former made him a name to watch for following the commencement of the 2023 CFL draft.

Appiah-Kubi maintained similarly impressive stats throughout the 2022 football season, and the four seasons prior that he played with the Lions. The five-foot-eleven, 160-pound Brampton, Ont. local played a crucial role in all eight games of the most recent season, earning seven receptions totalling 89 yards – the longest of which was a 29-yard pass during the Lion’s final game against the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

He likewise played all six games of the 2021 season, during which he tied for team lead with 13 receptions for a total of 116 yards. Prior to the cancelled 2020 season, Appiah-Kubi took the field in all eight games throughout 2019, starting in two of those games and securing six receptions for 104 total yards.

In total, through the last three season of Lions football, Appiah-Kubi earned an impressive 26 receptions across 22 games played.

The Edmonton Elks will make their debut on Sunday, June 11 when they face down the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their home city of Regina. At that bout, Appiah-Kubi will reunite with once-teammate turned rival Matt Dean, a former captain and linebacker for the Lions.

This year marks the sixth consecutive season wherein York footballers have been drafted, with Appiah-Kubi being the 11th Lion in that timeframe.

To view the York Lions football schedule for the upcoming season, click here.

York Lions football captain drafted by CFL’s Roughriders

Matt Dean and his teammates at a 2022 York Lions football game

Matt Dean – a Lions football linebacker, captain through the 2022 season and graduate student at York University – was selected by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League (CFL) 2023 draft.

Matt Dean close-up portrait
Matt Dean

Dean garnered no shortage of attention throughout the Lions’ most recent season, having topped the majority of the team’s defensive statistics this year. Dean led the team in tackles, including 41 solo and an additional 13 assisted, for a total of 47.5. During the Lions’ mid-October bout with the Ottawa Gee Gees, Dean posted a season-high of 11 tackles – 10 solo and two assists. He earned 115 all-time tackles with the Lions – 90 solo and 53 assists. Dean also secured both of the Lions’ interceptions this season and averaged 5.9 tackles per game for a total of four yards lost.

Dean started in all eight of the Lion’s games this year and, for his impressive display throughout, was recognized as the latest Lions football MVP at York’s 54th annual Varsity Athletics Banquet in April.

Having ended his time with the Lions on what is arguably his best season to date, Dean had previously earned himself a variety of coveted accolades during his undergraduate and even high school football careers.

The six-foot-two, 220-pound, Oshawa, Ont. local joined the Lions for the 2018 season, during which he blocked a would-be game-winning field goal attempt to secure a victory against Waterloo. He was also named to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) 2018 all-rookie team. In 2019, Dean started for all eight games and led the team in tackles for yards lost at 5.5. In 2021, he started for five games and led the Lions for total tackles at 23 – 18 solo and 10 assists. At Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School, Dean earned consecutive Lake Ontario Secondary School Athletics (LOSSA) gold medals in 2015 and 2016, as well as the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) Eastern Bowl title in 2015.

Dean was selected in the second round of the latest CFL draft, going 21st overall. His newest team – the Saskatchewan Roughriders – are one of the CFL’s preeminent franchises, having won four Grey Cups throughout their history in 1966, 1989, 2007 and most recently in 2013.

This marks the sixth consecutive year that a York Lions footballer has been drafted into the CFL, with Dean being the 10th drafted Lion in that timeframe.

To view the York Lions football schedule for the upcoming season, click here.

Four York Lions headed to East-West Bowl

East West Bowl image
East West Bowl image

The table is set for the 2023 East-West Bowl, and the York University Lions football team has four players selected for covered roster spots.

Evan Anseeuw, Nathan Brennan, Jason Janvier-Messier and Alfred Olay will join the East team, participating in a game that will showcase players who will be eligible for the following year’s CFL draft.

York’s group of athletes heading to the Bowl is headlined by Olay, who was an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) first-team all-star and a U SPORTS first-team all-Canadian in 2023. He was the first Lion to be named to the national first team since 2004. On special teams, Olay had a year to remember. The native of Courtice, Ont. was an elite special teams option, tallying 35 kickoff returns for 739 yards and 26 punt returns for 349 yards. Olay led his team in all-purpose yards with 1,377 and produced one of the highlight-reel plays of the entire OUA season when he returned a missed Carleton field goal 119 yards for a score in a matchup on Sept. 10, 2022.

This is the second straight year that the event has been at McMaster University (and the third time overall), and this year marks the 20th anniversary of the annual all-star contest, which was launched in 2003.

The two teams’ coaching staffs will be announced, along with any updates to the team rosters, on Friday, May 12.

The 2023 U SPORTS football prospects game (the East-West Bowl) is set for Saturday, May 13 at 1 p.m. ET at McMaster University’s Ron Joyce Field in Hamilton, Ont.

Athletics awards return in-person at annual banquet

York University Athletics & Recreation hosted its 54th annual Varsity Athletics Banquet on April 6. The event marked the return of the in-person banquet following the live-streamed iteration of the 53rd award ceremony in 2021.

Jotam Chouhan portrait being presented with her Female Athlete of the Year Award.
Jotam Chouhan

Women’s soccer player Jotam Chouhan and men’s soccer player Soji Olatoye were named the Lions female and male athletes of the year, respectively. Chouhan also earned the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West MVP award in 2022 and was named an OUA first-team. Olatoye likewise won the OUA West MVP and was an OUA first-team all-star along with being named a U SPORTS first-team all-Canadian.

A full list of award winners and MVPs named at the ceremony is included below.

Female Athlete of the Year

Awarded to one female who has exhibited outstanding athletic skill, character and fair play in their sport, and, as a result, contributed to the success of their team. Chouhan was named the female athlete of the year.

Male Athlete of the Year

Awarded to one male who has exhibited outstanding athletic skill, character and fair play in their sport, and, as a result, contributed to the success of their team. Olatoye was named the male athlete of the year.

Soji Olatoye, Male Athlete of the Year

Female Rookie of the Year

The recipient of this award must be compliant with U SPORTS and OUA rookie of the year sport-specific regulations, and be in their first year of eligibility in university competition. The award is presented to a female member of a York varsity team who exhibited outstanding athletic skill in their rookie season. Women’s soccer player Nia Fleming-Thompson was the female rookie of the year.

Male Rookie of the Year

The recipient of this award must be compliant with U SPORTS and OUA rookie of the year sport-specific regulations, and be in their first year of eligibility in university competition. The award is presented to a male member of a York varsity team who exhibited outstanding athletic skill in their rookie season. Badminton player Victor Lai was the male rookie of the year.

Bryce M. Taylor Award [Outstanding Female Graduate]:

Presented to a graduating female athlete, who has, throughout their undergraduate years, made outstanding contributions to Varsity Athletics at York University. Leadership, dedication, enthusiasm and participation in all aspects of Varsity Athletics will be considered qualifications for this award. Field hockey player Frankie St. Louis won this year’s Bryce M. Taylor Award.

Outstanding Male Graduate Award

Presented to a graduating male athlete, who has, throughout their undergraduate years, made outstanding contributions to Varsity Athletics at York University. Leadership, dedication, enthusiasm and participation in all aspects of Varsity Athletics will be considered qualifications for this award. Men’s hockey player Xavier Pouliot was this year’s outstanding male graduate.

Coach of the Year

Presented to a coach who has demonstrated leadership and earned the respect of both athletes and coaches in setting high expectations which have led to significant improvements and/or accomplishments over the past season for their program. Coach of the Year was presented to field hockey Coach Zeeshan Minhas.

Charles Saundercook Memorial Trophy

Presented to a student-athlete who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, enthusiasm for life and consideration of others. This trophy is open to male and female student-athletes. The Charles Saundercook Memorial Trophy was awarded to basketball player Prince Kamunga.

Most Valuable Players

Group photo of 54th varsity banquet MVPs
Group photo of 54th Varsity Athletics Banquet MVPs

Women’s Basketball: Lauren Golding

Men’s Basketball: Somto Dimanochie

Women’s Cross Country: Laura Peters

Men’s Cross Country: Abdullahi Abdullahi

Field Hockey: Frankie St. Louis

Football: Matt Dean

Women’s Hockey: Brooke Anderson

Men’s Hockey: Xavier Pouliot

Women’s Rugby: Erin Preston

Women’s Soccer: Jotam Chouhan

Men’s Soccer: Joe Mac

Women’s Tennis: Tamara Janev

Men’s Tennis: Max Tokarev

Women’s Track & Field: Ella Foster

Men’s Track & Field: Jeremy Elliott

Women’s Volleyball: Christina Piccinin

Men’s Volleyball: Andrew Tauhid

Women’s Wrestling: Willow Morton

Men’s Wrestling: Sabit Bin Mahir

Register for Keele Campus summer basketball camps

a basketball sits on a court

The York University Lions men’s and women’s varsity basketball teams will lead a variety of youth basketball camps this summer over the course of six weeks. Three separate camps, organized by age and difficulty, are now open for registration.

Mighty Lions (age eight to 13)

  • The Mighty Lions will have the chance to develop and enhance their fundamental movements through basketball specific skills training, drills, and games. 
  • Participants will have the opportunity to apply their skills throughout the camp and have fun through game scenarios and competitions.
  • The camp is instructed by the York Lions players and coaching staff.
  • Registration for the camp includes a t-shirt, recreational swims, and WOW Factor Fridays.

Junior Lions (age 10 to 15)

  • The Junior Lions will have the chance to develop and enhance their fundamental movements through basketball specific skills training, drills, and games.
  • Participants will have the opportunity to apply their skills throughout the camp and have fun through game scenarios and competitions.
  • The camp is instructed by the York Lions players and coaching staff.
  • Registration for the camp includes a t-shirt, recreational swims, and WOW Factor Fridays.

Elite Camp (age 14 to 17)

  • This is the most advanced of all camps, and offers the most challenging skills and drills, while concentrating on various aspects of the game.
  • Led by the Lions players and coaching staff, this camp is designed for players looking to take their game to the next level. 
  • In addition to all of this, registration includes a t-shirt, recreational swims, and off-court video sessions.