HALIFAX, NS – Is everyone okay? Are we keeping up with how fast things are changing in almost every sport, almost every day?
I don’t blame you if your head is spinning a little bit. Mine sure is. I don’t think it’s possible to sum up each and every upset this week; there were just all over the place. Not to mention, we have to stop ourselves to think about what the playoff races have turned into over the weekend.
Answer? Crazy. There’s no other word. It’s crazy.
We don’t talk enough about how great parity is in sport. Yeah, it would be great to see your favourite team win every game. Yeah, I’m a self-proclaimed member of Team Chaos. But what’s wrong with a good underdog story or two? Or five? It certainly keeps things exciting.
There was no shortage of excitement in every corner of the Atlantic region last weekend. From a thrilling game-winning drive in football, a bitter rematch in rugby or the second cross-country meet of the year, there’s a lot to take in. Hockey is now underway too. We’re just getting started.
Playoff race in men’s soccer heating up
Five and six. Those are the magic numbers in AUS men’s soccer right now.
Six teams are within five points of each other in the standings right now. UNB, Cape Breton, Saint Mary’s, Memorial, Dalhousie and Moncton (in that order) are all in playoff spots right now, between 10 and 15 points on the season.
A sixth team, UPEI with eight points, makes it seven teams within seven points. The big difference, though, is they are outside of the playoff picture right now. StFX is in first place with 18 points, but a win or two from any of these teams can shift the landscape quickly.
The standings go to show how even the competition is, with a fairly large sample size of half a season already played. That evenness right now comes from a fair share of interesting results, like the MUN sweep of the UNB Reds in St. John’s on the weekend.
We’ve seen some shocking results across all of AUS sports this season, but the streaky Sea-Hawks taking out the powerful Reds in two games wasn’t expected. But, credit where credit is due, Memorial’s big boys came out to play. Of the host’s six goals in both games, three were off the foot of Jacob Grant and five were assisted by Emmanuel Dolo, now leading the league in points.
Both teams have the week off, so we have a bit more time to debate the implications of all this. But just like that, only three full weekends (plus scattered games over this week) is all that’s between now and the AUS championships. And for most teams, only four or five games remain to grab those all-important points.
On the topic of points and the scoring race, did anyone notice CBU’s Charlie Waters is second in the conference with 11 points? He’s doesn’t catch eyes like goal-scorers Dolo or teammate Kairo Coore, probably because he hasn’t scored any goals.
Yep, all 11 of those points are assists. What I think is most impressive about his year is his consistency. He’s recorded an assist in every game except when they were shut out by MUN. Of those games, he’s had two or more assists in every game except last week versus StFX. On Sept. 26, he quietly registered four against Acadia.
Waters has assisted on five of eight Coore goals too. On the topic of dynamic duos like Dolo/Grant at Memorial, Coore and Waters is another of the best, albeit lesser recognized, pairs in the conference.
Copy and paste the above header, but for women’s soccer
Five within five. You do the math.
This time, we’re talking about the top five teams. Not only do we have a playoff race, but too-close-to-call regular season title or playoff bye races between the top teams.
Memorial, CBU, Acadia, Dal and Mount Allison (I’ll have more on the Mounties’ out-of-nowhere run shortly)⎼again, in that order⎼make up the contending teams for first place in the standing right now. We can extend the five-within-five classification to six teams within six points with StFX, who have fallen from grace after three straight losses, from first place to the final playoff spot.
Much like the men, parity needs a surprising result or two to really show. The upset of the week is easily Mount A holding off Dal for a 1-0 win at home. A first-half Kathryn Perry goal was all they needed to beat the undefeated Tigers, who were scoring heaps of goals in the games leading up to that one.
I would say Acadia’s win over StFX was a bit surprising, given each team’s overall seasons. Acadia came out sluggish in its first couple of games but has rounded into form as of late. The X-Women, however, find themselves in a downward-sloping direction as three straight defeats have dropped them into the middle of the pack.
UPEI battling to a draw with the offensively-charged Capers kept the latter from jumping MUN for first place, keeping the standings close. I could go on all day about what could have been. But this year in AUS soccer, nothing will be as you expect it.
How about them Mounties?
It’s truly great to see this program pull together this success after years of suffering near the AUS basement. But did anyone see four straight wins coming?
They haven’t won this many games since 2015 and haven’t had a winning streak since they won three straight in the 2012 season. So what’s been driving the on-fire Mounties these past few games?
Defence must factor in there somewhere. They’ve allowed just two goals against in their last five matches, including keeping Dal, the second-highest scoring team, off the scoresheet. That’s compared to six goals against in their opening three matches of the season. It helps that they’ve allowed so few shots (11, to be exact) in their last five.
Also, they’re getting timely contributions from their key players. Amanda Piltzmaker has scored the winning goals in three of the team’s wins, quietly sneaking into second in the AUS scoring race. Fullbacks Megan LaHay, Hailey Frampton, Nicole Doncaster and Sydney Reid have played every minute of every game over their undefeated run, forming the wall between their opponents and goals. But its a team effort for Mount A to be able to battle back this way as they now prepare for their final push to seal a playoff berth. Maybe even more.
Football week features forfeit, come-from-behind victory
Before last week’s football action got going, a bit of a bombshell dropped from the AUS: Acadia forfeited three of their games (an exhibition and two regular season games, including one win) because of one player’s academic ineligibility who took part in those games.
It’s not something you see often anywhere in U SPORTS football. But the violation fell within U SPORTS eligibility requirements regarding academic requirements, noted by the AUS as an “administrative error.” The conference added the student-athlete did “not meet academic standing requirements.”
Acadia accepted the penalty but did not comment when asked for further on the nature of the violation. But the timing of the announcement sure would have stung as the Axemen were fresh off their first victory of the season. That came against SMU.
The day after getting stripped of that win, Acadia bounced back and took the win. At SMU.
Not often do you win your first game of the season twice in a season, let alone against the same team. The Axemen and Huskies were evenly matched for the most part, instead of the former dominating like the week before. But an important first half, with a Julien Poirier-McKiggan score and two Ben George field goals, was all the room the Acadia defence needed to hold SMU at bay for the rest of the game, grinding out a 14-7 win.
Meanwhile, there was no shortage of offence in Antigonish Saturday. After not scoring a touchdown in their season opener against Mount Allison, Bishop’s took four to the house against hosts StFX, including a blocked field goal attempt returned 51 yards by Jake Kelly.
That was the Gaiters’ last of three straight touchdowns. Near the end of the first half, they trailed 21-7 to the hosts but took a 29-22 lead with five minutes left in the quarter.
Boy, did that ever set the stage. In the dying seconds, the X-Men drove down the field trailing by five. Silas Fagnan put up a pass 31 yards from the end zone. Naturally, brother Isaac was the one with the ball in his hands seconds later. 30-29 X-Men. Then 32-29, the final score, after the same duo converted for two points.
Capped off with the most exciting finish possible, StFX ran up the scoreboard yet again. Their 65 points is tops in the conference and it’s not even close. Their opponent this coming Friday, Mount A, has allowed the fewest points in the league with 16, including only one touchdown allowed. If Bishop’s/StFX was a game of the year candidate, we could have a good challenger this weekend.
–Revenge for rugby X-Women- It’s a much different season for the 2018 U SPORTS women’s rugby champions from StFX. No longer are they alone as the conference’s dominant power, as Acadia and UPEI have taken strides and, resultantly, wins off the X-Women.
But Sunday’s result is sure to pump some confidence back into the club. After dropping their season opener 38-31 to the Panthers, StFX put on a clinic on home turf to exact revenge on UPEI. Led by two Sarah Hoerig tries and five Danielle Franada converts, StFX cruised by the Panthers 45-17.
After beating SMU on Wednesday night as well, the X-Women now sit two points behind the first-place Axewomen, who have a game in hand. The top two teams meet one last time in Wolfville on Oct. 15, which could determine the top seed in the AUS playoffs the following weekend.
-StFX teams stay strong on the cross country course- It’s always been StFX and Dal, then everyone else, in AUS cross country. This year, StFX has made all their own through two races.
Both the X-Men and X-Women won the Acadia Invitational last weekend with relative ease. The men won with 27 team points, 13 better than second-place SMU. Half of the top 10 runners were X-Men, led by Graydon Staples (second-place), Luc Gallant (third) and Ben Good (sixth).
The X-Women had six runners in the race’s top 10 and all seven in the top 13 at Acadia. Much like their last race at StFX a couple of weeks ago, they were way ahead of the rest of the teams, finishing 48 points ahead of second-place Memorial. The teams run again on Oct. 16 at the UNB/STU Invitational in Fredericton, before the AUS championships Oct. 30 in Moncton.
-Hockey and more back in early October- And last but certainly not least, AUS hockey is back this week. At time of writing, two games had been played: a 3-0 UNB win at home over cross-province rivals Moncton, and fellow defending champions StFX X-Women beating Dal 5-2 in Halifax.
While more AUS competition will be during the week with Thanksgiving weekend coming up, there will not be a shortage of action on the ice. Three men’s games and four women’s games go Friday, and the same schedule, less one women’s game, is on tap Saturday. Not a bad way to spend the long weekend, if you ask me. Also, we’re now less than a month away from swimming (next week), basketball and volleyball (both Oct. 29) from starting. Think you’re having fun yet? We’re just getting started.