Over the summer, the Carleton Ravens men’s soccer team recruited forwards Gabriel Bitar and Stefan Karajovanovic. Since then, the first-year forwards have had an incredible first season. Bitar and Karajovanovic are currently sitting on top in the individual offence leader board in goals scored this season.
Bitar leads the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) in goals scored with 16, and he sits in second for points with 18 and shots with 49. Karajovanovic is tied for second in goals scored with 15, and leads the OUA in points with 19. His four assists also put him in fourth for total assists.
“When we recruited them initially, we knew that they would be good players for us, we didn’t think that they’d have the impact that they did as quickly as they had,” said head coach, Kwesi Loney.
Karajovanovic was born in Gatineau, where his family had strong ties to the game of soccer, which led to his early love for the sport.
“My family, everybody from my family plays soccer. My grandfather was a professional back in Bosnia. He played for a professional team and they all pushed me since a young age to play soccer and I kept doing the sport because that’s what I love and it’s in my blood right now,” Karajovanovic said.
Similarly, Bitar got started at an early age due to his family’s passion for the game.
“Me and my family, we just love soccer, so, I was introduced at a young age and the more I played, the more I fell in love with the game, so, I’ve been playing ever since,” Bitar said.
The Ravens recruited both Karajovanovic and Bitar from the Ottawa Fury soccer academy.
Karajovanovic was also recommended to Loney by a Ravens alumnus who coached him at a young age.
From their first game in Ravens jerseys, Bitar and Karajovanovic excelled, with Bitar scoring a goal in his first game and Karajovanovic scoring four in his second.
While both said that coming to Carleton has been a tougher experience than expected, the two credit the veteran players on the team with their growth and consistency this year.
“The veterans have been here for a while so they know what to do in certain situations in the game when the team is not playing as well, so, it’s very important to have veterans on the team that can pick us up when we’re in a tight spot or when we’re not playing well and when we just don’t seem to be finding our groove,” Bitar said.
Loney credits the team with the success of the two young forwards.
“I feel it’s a testament of our team mentality because as successful as [Bitar] and [Karajovanovic] are, they would not be able to score those goals or have those opportunities without the supporting team we have behind them,” Loney said. “The team does a great job in providing them the right kind of balls in the right instances so that they can score the opportunities for us.”
Bitar noted that both himself and Karajovanovic had similarities and differences in their games that made them effective on the field.
“We both want the ball all the time at our feet because we feel that we can create a lot, but it’s also very different because he makes a lot of runs into the box that others don’t see,” Bitar said. “Like me, perhaps I get caught up with the ball and I always follow it around, but Stefan somehow finds a way to find those sneaky runs in behind the defence that’s very easy to play well through to score goals and great finishing.”
Loney said that he is looking forward to seeing the two players develop further as they continue their careers as Ravens.
“From the two of them, I look forward to watching them grow as a partnership. At times now, they are very individual in their play. The more time they spend together, working together—it will only enhance their game and ability to score goals,” Loney said.
After a dominating 7-0 victory against the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks on Oct. 29, the Ravens now enter the Final Four round of the OUA playoffs.
The two freshman will have the chance to continue their offensive dominance as the Ravens return to the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
Article also appears in The Charlatan