CAPE BRETON, NS – Being as non-cliche as I possibly can, the semifinals were not as anyone would have expected Friday.
But I have reason to believe that. Only one of four top-two teams advanced to the AUS final games on Sunday. Two matches went to extra time, one of which featured a nine-round penalty shootout. One team played 240 minutes of soccer in 24 hours and won both times. And one player scored a goal at the same time and in the same style as the day before against a different team.
Those are only a few storylines from another four-game slate on the second day of the AUS championships in Cape Breton. We can also talk all night about what’s to come in the finals. On the men’s side, one team is on a mission to complete its underdog story against the juggernaut host team. The women’s final has the squads still playing to keep their seasons alive. Since CBU automatically qualifies for the U SPORTS championships as hosts, only Sunday’s winner can continue on to nationals.
But how did these teams get there? As you will find, there are many different reasons.
WSOC: X-Women victorious in semifinal for the ages
The Memorial Sea-Hawks and StFX X-Women semifinal on Friday was unquestionably an instant classic. Multiple goals early in the game, big saves and even a bit of chippiness. Oh, and a nine-round shootout.
This game could have gone either way at times. When it looked like Memorial’s speed and skill around the StFX net would prevail, the ball stayed out. And at the other end, some offensive brilliance from Talia Morin and Amanda Smith (who has four goals in two games) wasn’t enough to grab StFX the lead.
Those patterns persisted throughout regulation and a half-hour of extra time. Penalty shootout it was.
The X-Women got a couple of scares early. Sydney Walsh was excellent all game in the Sea-Hawks’ net and stopped StFX’s first and fifth shots of the game. That last one was extra thrilling.
AUS MVP Holly O’Neill, who scored three penalty shots on three attempts this season, was MUN’s fifth shooter. But, StFX’s Christina Gentile made the save. Perhaps the biggest of her career.
The following three rounds were all goals. After Mairin Canning put the X-Women up in the ninth, Gentile denied Briana Pender of MUN. The next biggest save of her life.
There’s a lot of credit to hand around for each team, but this was a keeper’s game as each backstopper stopped a combined 15 shots. But, it will be Gentile and StFX to play Acadia on Sunday. The biggest task for StFX is to get plenty of shots on the Axewomen goal and convert on their chances. Acadia does not grant many.
MSOC: The House of Bain
We may already have our unsung hero (or depending on your definition, very-sung hero) of the AUS championships: SMU fullback Woody Bain.
His goal against the lower-ranked UPEI Panthers in the quarterfinals was significant. In the second half of that game, his 2-0 strike put the match, and UPEI’s championship aspirations, out of reach.
Bain not only scored on an almost-identical shot 24 hours later, but it was the game-winning goal against the conference’s top regular-season team. That will live on as the goal that sent SMU to the AUS finals and to Carleton in a couple of weeks for the U SPORTS championships.
“I’m not sure,” said Bain in response to being asked how he was able to top yesterday’s goal today.
The game wasn’t as eventful offensively as other matches but the three saves that winning keeper Jensen Brown faced were far from easy. The best chance late in the game off the head of the X-Men’s Nick Aquino looked to be going over Brown’s head, but he stretched out just in time to preserve the Huskies’ lead.
With that, SMU advances to their first final since 2013 in hopes of winning their first AUS title since 2011. It doesn’t get any easier for them though, with the red-hot CBU Capers waiting for them in the championship game. The Huskies, especially the feisty Sean Freeman, have been a team that gets under opponents’ skin. That has to be their move Sunday as they have the likes of AUS MVP Charlie Waters and Kairo Coore to contend with.
WSOC: Acadia gets extra in extra time again
I won’t lie, it appeared to me the CBU Capers were taking advantage of the tired Acadia Axewomen in the second half. CBU was more rested and playing at home.
But really, Acadia was just sticking to their gritty game plan of exhausting the other side. And that gave them the advantage in extra time. They wore down CBU long enough to get the goal that would send them to the AUS final.
But, they barely wore them down enough. The game was decided by inches. The Capers are likely still arguing the call as I write, but the ball was out before Jayden Boudreau crossed it to Meghan Johnston for the game-winning goal. Not everything had gone their way through the first two games, from being forced to play two games with extra time less than a day apart, to having CBU control the ball in their end for the better part of the game. The extra time tally was Acadia’s break that they capitalized on.
Along with the RSEQ’s women’s soccer final, Sunday’s showdown between the X-Women and Axewomen is the highest-stakes soccer final in any U SPORTS conference. Unlike most competitions that grant both finalists a berth in nationals, only one advances from Sunday’s title game. Acadia will have to bring that wear-and-tear game again as they encounter another offensively-potent team in StFX. They beat the X-Women twice this year, but none of that matters now.
MSOC: Big names shine bright in CBU triumph
There were no specific plays that defined Cape Breton’s 3-1 victory over UNB in Friday night’s semifinal. Their aggression and finesse all night led to a ton of possession time for the Capers, leading to many more shots and chances, then eventually goals. It was a bread-and-butter game plan from CBU coach Deano Morely.
The Kairo Coore/Charlie Waters duo was lights-out on the CBU attack. Coore did what he does best: score and score a lot. He wasted no time and little effort by scoring twice on three shots. Waters didn’t score or set up any goals, but he was still the most noticeable player on the pitch.
Aside from getting robbed a couple of times by an excellent Louis-Charles Vaillancourt performance in the UNB net, Waters was a threat every time he had the ball. Some shots blew just wide of the posts, two of his corner kicks nailed the crossbar and virtually all of his passes were on the money. It’s hard to expect anything less than that last point though; he had 11 more assists than the next closest player in the regular season.
CBU looks rested and strong heading into the championship game against SMU, but they must keep cashing in on their chances like they did tonight. A “key to the game” on the AUStv broadcast Friday for CBU was, quite simply, “give Waters the ball.” If that happens Sunday, that’s bad news for the Huskies.