HALIFAX, NS – November is upon us.
You know what that means, right? Championships upon championships. And not just upcoming AUS championships this month in soccer and football, but the first nationals of the year are imminent.
We know who’s representing the Atlantic faction for the U SPORTS women’s rugby championship at Queen’s on Nov.10-14. We’ll know this weekend who goes to Carleton for the men’s soccer championships at Carleton and who (else) plays in Sydney with CBU for the women’s championships.
Additionally, the cross country and football seasons come to a head later this month, with AUS teams in each sport on a mission to gain some ground on the national stage. And while some seasons end, others like basketball, volleyball and swimming are just getting going.
There might be a month left before the holiday break, but it can never be more eventful in the AUS.
Enjoy this special edition of The Bubble, with a focus on this weekend’s soccer championships.
Soccer championships kick off Thursday
Playing around with playoff scenarios is one of my favourite things about my job. You weigh out what a win, loss or tie in one game would mean for not just one or two teams, but many others. It makes every goal that much more important and exciting. (I mean, who wasn’t doing backflips watching the Memorial and Moncton’s men’s teams go at it last weekend?)
And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: pre-playoffs. Teams are being eliminated while others move onto the next round and a single goal can spell a team’s fate. Well, that’s exactly how the AUS soccer playoffs work. Winner-take-all.
Or in this case, the top two teams take all. On the women’s side, one of them will be Cape Breton, the hosts of the U SPORTS championships beginning Nov. 18. For the men, each finalist will book their tickets to Ottawa for mid-November’s championships at Carleton.
Who will take those three open spots? Let’s check out our quarterfinal matchups and make some picks.
QF #1: UPEI vs Saint Mary’s
The men’s tournament opens with two of the conference’s hottest teams, the Panthers and Huskies. UPEI hasn’t lost since Oct. 1 and SMU also has only a single loss last month, dropping a 3-1 decision to CBU in their season finale.
The teams met twice in the regular season, fighting to 1-1 draws each time. SMU was the team in control in each of those games but some brilliant performances from Panthers keeper Evan Couturier allowed his team to stay in the battle each match.
SMU is not the only top-tier team UPEI has a knack for frustrating, though. In the past month, they beat Memorial amid one of the Sea-Hawks’ best stretches of the season. They also held Cape Breton to a 1-1 draw.
However, when Saint Mary’s has needed a big win this season, they’ve succeeded. They’re only a couple of weeks removed from beating the first-place X-Men, plus other significant victories versus Memorial and Moncton. In the battle between UPEI’s third-best defence in the AUS and Saint Mary’s third-ranked offence, I think SMU’s knack for coming through in the clutch moments gives them the edge. The winner moves on to play StFX.
Prediction: SMU wins 2-1
QF #2: Memorial vs UNB
Later that afternoon, UNB, the best team to begin the season, meets a Memorial team coming off an up-and-down weekend against Moncton. MUN, however, played well enough to battle its way into a showdown with the Reds.
MUN has had UNB’s number this year. Given the St. John’s-based Sea-Hawks typically have one of the largest home-pitch advantages in the AUS, the MUN scoring came to life against a usually-stingy Reds defence. The Sea-Hawks seemed to have more of the energy that game too, outshooting their opponent 21-7 over the two matches.
Since then, Memorial has won just once, a 4-0 win over Acadia, plus the two draws against the Aigles Bleus. UNB has won twice since then. However, UNB has had a tough time on the road since winning their first three away games in September. They dropped their game in Moncton along with those in Newfoundland.
If anything though, Sydney is the type of atmosphere Memorial feeds off of. If the second-best scoring team in the conference cracks the UNB armour early on and cleans up untimely goals against them like last weekend, the game is theirs. I say they do it and move on to play CBU.
Prediction: MUN wins 2-0
Semis and Finals
SF #1: StFX defeats SMU 1-0
SF #2: CBU defeats MUN 3-1
Final: StFX defeats CBU 2-1
QF #1: Mount Allison vs StFX
The weekend kicks off between preseason title favourites StFX and the surprise outfit of the season Mount Allison, who was the final team to secure their place in the AUS championships.
StFX and Mount A’s lone meeting came just a couple of weeks ago, where the X-Women dominated 4-1. It was not the type of game the Mounties were used to. Their five-game win streak that drove their playoff run was defined by the few chances allowed against them. But StFX flipped the script by directing 18 shots on the Mount A net that game.
Mount A was a match removed from their five-game win streak ending when the teams met in mid-October. StFX was coming off a streak, albeit not a good one, that hindered their place in the standings. After four wins to begin the season, they lost their next four of five and were almost out of a playoff spot. But some important wins late in the year versus Mount A and Dal appear to have them back on track.
Mount A hasn’t won since their win streak came to a halt against CBU on Oct. 23. They also come into the playoffs as the only team still alive with a negative goal differential. That isn’t a promising sign heading into their match against the experienced contender StFX. The Mounties will be driven to make a statement, but the X-Women will likely be too much to handle.
Prediction: StFX wins 3-0
QF #2: Dalhousie vs Acadia
The second women’s quarterfinal of the day pits third-place Acadia against the sixth-seeded Dal for the right to advance and play hosts CBU the next day.
The only Dal and Acadia game of the season was about as Dal and Acadia as things could get. The low-scoring affair between the two defensive smotherers generated just a single goal. That was scored by the Axewomen’s Madyson Harris to sway the game in Acadia’s favour.
That was a bright spot in a rather up-and-down October for the Axewomen. Along with their win over the Tigers, they also captured wins over StFX (twice) and UPEI. But, they dropped matches to the teams they’re chasing: MUN and CBU. In the end, they settled for the third spot in the standings.
Dal also had a rather mediocre last few weeks. After clobbering the Panthers 6-0 on Oct. 1, they failed to win any of their final seven games, consisting of four draws (three of them scoreless) and three losses. Scoring hasn’t come easily for the Tigers but they remain the second-best defensive team in the league after the Capers.
Despite recent struggles on both sides, it’s a dream matchup for the fans. It’s almost sure to be a close game. But I’m giving Acadia the slight edge with their recent success (2019 finalists) and success against higher teams this season.
Prediction: Acadia wins 1-1 (penalty shootout)
Semis and Finals
SF #1: StFX defeats MUN 2-1
SF #2: CBU defeats Acadia 2-0
Final: CBU defeats StFX 3-1
More notes from around the conference
- Top teams fall in AUS hockey- After last weekend, it’s officially official. Every team in both AUS men’s and women’s hockey have officially won or lost at least one game this season, barely a month into the schedule. Parity.
The men’s UNB Reds finally fell. They did so at the hands of StFX, the most likely proponent to defeat them based on results early in the season. Goals from Declan Smith, Conner Bruggen-Cate and Matthew Philip in the third period led the X-Men to victory. So did an absolutely ridiculous performance from Joseph Raaymakers between the pipes, stopping 48 shots en route to the win. That includes 10 on the Reds’ James McEwan. StFX is now one point back of UNB for first place.
The women’s Reds rode into the weekend undefeated too. That changed at the hands of their cross-campus rivals St. Thomas last Friday. A big game from the Tommies’ Jacey Dane, who had two second-period goals, helped put the game out of UNB’s reach in the Battle of the Hill. STU’s start to the season was by no means smooth, but have been sticking around the middle of the pack long enough to get their feet under them. After multiple games against UNB over the off-year, the Tommies know plenty about their Fredericton rivals and are sure to give them anything but an easy time this season.
- StFX rugby redemption- It was the furthest thing from what StFX rugby would consider a “regular” year to their standards. Nonetheless, they came through in the postseason and won the AUS anyway. Better yet, they did it against the team that’s beat them twice this season.
Early and often, the X-Women took advantage of the wet weather at Acadia’s Raymond Field on Sunday. They jumped ahead 21-0 20 minutes in. Acadia, to their credit, put together a spirited halftime game plan because they flew out of the gate in the game’s second half. By the 57th minute, they closed the point gap to four. Then Tashayla Tynes happened to them. With a 28-24 lead less than 10 minutes left, Tynes scored two tries in five minutes to put the game, and Acadia’s championship hopes, out of reach.
StFX’s effort Sunday was defined by their leaders coming through when it mattered most. Veterans Annie McMullon and Madison Ross scored two tries apiece, using the big-game experience that comes with the X-Women program’s success to pull through. And let’s not forget about AUS MVP Danielle Franada, who made all six conversions, even in the rain from close to the sidelines. If you play or watch rugby, you know how hard that is to do so consistently. Franada is the best at her craft in the AUS by far, perhaps in all of U SPORTS. As for Acadia, their sights are set on Kingston as they accompany StFX to the nationals in a week’s time.
- StFX, Dal victorious in cross country- The StFX X-Women capped off a near-perfect AUS cross country season with a comfortable win in the AUS championships on the weekend.
Their classic rivals Dal weren’t far behind, but performances from individual champion Siona Chisholm, plus Mairin Canning and Eileen Benoit placing fourth and fifth, respectively, put the title out of everyone else’s reach. Of the women’s race’s top ten finishers, six were X-Women.
On the men’s side, the Tigers pulled together their season’s biggest performance. Led by third-place finisher Will Cox, Dal had four runners in the top eight to give them the edge over the X-Men for their second straight title. Nick Robertson, Hudson Grimshaw-Surette and Daniel Rosen occupied spots six through eight for Dal. SMU’s Andrew Peverill took first place individually.
The U SPORTS cross country championships run Nov. 20 in Quebec City, hosted by the Universite de Laval.
-All your basketball needs- As some seasons end and others begin in the AUS, there will be tons of stories to keep an eye on and cover. Basketball has many of those and the man himself, AUS basketball reporter Thomas Scott, will be on top of them all season. He’s been preparing coverage for the conference on both the men’s and women’s side over the past few months and he’ll be there every step of the way until the U SPORTS Final 8s in March. Keep an eye out for his regular recaps and more this season.