TORONTO, ON – Playoffs are a reset for every athlete and every team, and in U SPORTS soccer, with just one game playoffs, it is just a matter of who is better on the day. While the regular season matters for seeding, moving on in the post-season comes down to who is better for 90 minutes.
Each year, the playoffs are heartbreaking, and in women’s sports, it hurts even more. With no professional leagues for women in Canada, the U SPORTS level is the highest many athletes reach. In the playoffs, it all comes down to 90 minutes, just one game that could extend a student-athlete’s career or put an end to a life of dedication to sport.
With eight teams in action, the quarterfinals feature exceptional theatrics and nothing disappointed in the opening round of the Canada West Women’s Soccer Playoffs.
TWU SPARTANS 1-0 UVIC VIKES
No team in U SPORTS put up as much of a giant-killing challenge as UVic did against Trinity Western. Up against the #1 ranked team in the nation, the Victoria Vikes went toe-to-toe with the Spartans for 90 minutes, holding them scoreless until the 75th minute, when Makenna Dieterich broke the deadlock for TWU.
The only team to challenge TWU ahead of the UVic match had been UBC, a side that graced past the Vikes just a week before Victoria’s incredible challenge against the Spartans.
“That is playoff soccer in Canada West,” said TWU Head Coach Graham Roxburgh. “Credit to UVic, they defended extremely well. We had most of the possession, and we were only vulnerable if they caught us on the counter-attack.”
While Victoria held a tight defence for most of the match, they also had their attacking opportunities, aiming for a “smash and grab” win against the top team in Canada. Despite faltering with 15 minutes to go, the Vikes showed that they could compete with the top teams in the country, something to build on for 2022.
SASKATCHEWAN HUSKIES 1-0 (PKs) CALGARY DINOS
Calgary’s Montana Leonard will go down as the greatest single-season goalscorer in Canada West history, setting that record in a shortened 2021 season. Yet, she could not channel any scoring into the playoffs. It’s an unfortunate fact of university sport and the one-and-done nature of U SPORTS playoff rounds. One off day for Leonard, and the Dinos are out of the playoffs, her university career done.
The Saskatchewan Huskies and Calgary Dinos played tentatively for 90 minutes and continued that style through another 30 minutes of extra time, dragging the match to an eventual penalty shootout, the first in U SPORTS since 2019.
Saskatchewan goalkeeper Jadyn Steinhauer stopped three of five penalties, including Leonard’s, to send the Huskies to the Canada West final four and the defending conference champions back to Calgary without a match to prepare for.
“A difficult pill to swallow. I am absolutely gutted for our young women,” said Dinos head coach Troye Flannery to Canada West. “You cannot fault the effort, you cannot fault the performance. Exceptionally proud of the women in the room. We have a bunch of fifth- and sixth-years. That’s why I do what I do.”
With the ebbs and flows of the five-year U SPORTS cycle, the Dinos will enter a few years of rebuilding before they can genuinely compete for titles again, as they welcome in a large recruiting class and continue with a relatively inexperienced group from this season.
The Huskies will have to take a similar approach in the next round, as they move on to face the TWU Spartans, a side that features star striker Anna Dunn yet is deeper than Calgary with Leonard.
UBC THUNDERBIRDS 5-0 REGINA COUGARS
The Regina Cougars put together a season that very few expected, qualifying for the postseason and looking strong throughout the campaign. However, their hard work couldn’t push luck over the line in a playoff match against UBC.
Despite not finishing atop the Canada West standings, the Thunderbirds put together a near-perfect match against the Cougars in the quarterfinal, pushing the ball upfield right from the first kick, and attacking for all 90 minutes.
“It’s what we wanted to see from our team,” said UBC head coach Jesse Symons to UBC Athletics. “We challenged them to come out on the front foot and full credit to the starting eleven. They really showed their maturity and overall mindset to go at them and create, score goals, get in the box, and it was fantastic to see tonight.”
With Danielle Steer grabbing two goals and a stellar goalkeeping performance from former West Ham United loan player Emily Moore, the Thunderbirds are clicking at the right time as they now head into Canada West Final Four.
Ahead of the season, Symons told 49 Sports that he believed that the 2021 edition of the T-Birds was stronger than the team that won the 2019 U SPORTS title. Although they couldn’t push by Trinity Western to win their division, things are starting to roll at the right time for UBC.
Next weekend, the T-Birds will head to TWU for a semifinal matchup with the MacEwan Griffins, while Regina can look ahead to 2022 with their heads held high after an exceptional campaign.
MacEwan GRIFFINS 2-0 UFV CASCADES
The UFV Cascades were in tough when Canada West realigned the divisions for soccer in 2021. Paired with the national powerhouses of UBC and TWU in the West division, there was a near-certain that the Cascades would have to hit the road for a playoff game.
Finishing third in the division, UFV travelled to Edmonton; they fell 2-0 to the MacEwan Griffins in quarterfinal action. The Griffins, headlined by star midfielder Samantha Gouveia, scored in the 37th and 66th minutes en route to a berth in the semi-finals.
An injury forced Canada West first-team All-Star Megan Lemoine to leave the match in the first half, leaving the Griffins without an integral player for most of the game. However, rookie midfielder Abbey Wright stepped up to score the game-winner in the 37th minute, her first U SPORTS goal.
“It’s exciting,” said MacEwan head coach Dean Cordeiro to MacEwan Athletics. “Full credit to Fraser Valley. They played a terrific game today. It’s playoffs, anything can happen, so you have to be dialled in from the onset. I feel like we came out with a very good start to the game today, which was key.”
The UFV Cascades will be able to build on this season, with a young group returning to the previous divisional structure, where four matches against UBC and TWU don’t throw off a campaign. For MacEwan, they’ll head to Trinity Western to take on the pesky UBC Thunderbirds.
The Trinity Western Spartans will host the Canada West Final Four Tournament in Langley, BC, from Nov. 5-7. The two semi-final winners qualify for the U SPORTS national tournament in Sydney, NS, on Nov. 18.