CAPE BRETON, NS – As the AUS postseason wrapped up Sunday, viewers were treated to to very different AUS Championship Final matches.
The Acadia Axewomen and StFX X-Women showdown for the women’s banner was a war of attrition. Neither side received much wiggle room and the score and stats reflected just that: a neck-and-neck race. The CBU Capers and SMU Huskies playing for the men’s crown had less finesse, but more back-and-forth, loose play that generated scoring.
Although the X-Women’s run came to an end today, we haven’t seen the last of the other three teams in 2021 as they prepare to head to their respective U SPORTS championships. Sunday further demonstrated each team’s strengths, from CBU’s aggressive ball movement and attack, Acadia’s delicate, exhausting trap game and SMU’s scrappy, under-your-skin qualities. So how did these play into the AUS finals?
WSOC: Axewomen make their few big moments count
Many memorable championship games don’t include tons of key moments. There’s certainly hard work, big opportunities and important plays all game. But often, only two to three scoring chances and perhaps a big save, is what makes the difference on the scoreboard.
That’s what happened between the Acadia Axewomen and StFX X-Women in Sunday’s final. The defensively-gifted clubs hardly let anything leak through all match, with total shots on goal 5-3 in StFX’s favour. And of those, there were fewer legitimate scoring chances (including some that didn’t result in shots on goal).
Acadia may have had just one golden chance all game. Following a perfect Meghan Johnston cross, the Axewomen were sprung on a three-on-one attack just 10 feet from Christina Gentile and the StFX goal. The Johnston ball came right to Grace Longley, who wasted no time putting it by the keeper.
StFX had a few. A big one came about 12 minutes in, when Amanda Smith launched a corner kick off the crossbar that ricocheted in front of teammate Caitlin Crichton near the goal line. However, the ball bounced the wrong way on her and the attempted volley sailed over the net. The X-Women’s other major chance was an Amanda Smith free kick from just outside the Acadia penalty area midway through the second half. Milena Ramirez came up big-time for the Axewomen there, scooping up the low, hard shot.
Those are three major scoring chances, including a key save. But what helped make it a great match were not any particular plays or trends. It was the fact that you could just feel how evenly-matched this match was, like a tug-of-war where no one is able to move one way or the other. One step or misstep could decide the match, as it did Sunday afternoon.
And because of that chance gone right for Acadia, they will extend their season to the U SPORTS championships from Nov. 18-21 in Cape Breton.
How’d they get here?
The Axewomen didn’t get the attention coming into the tournament like hosts and 2019 champs CBU or top-seed Memorial, but they were with them virtually all season. It took until the final weekend until the teams were separated into quarterfinal bye teams and quarterfinal teams. Acadia finished five points back of second-place CBU for that bye.
Part of that gap was due to a less-than-ideal start to the season. They dropped their season opener to UNB and beat the then-shunned Mount Allision Mounties by just a goal. The latter was their first game in an eight-game unbeaten streak. They fell, however, to MUN and CBU in two of their final three games to separate the teams in the standings.
Acadia was a very by-committee team all season. Outside of Mount A, they were the lowest-scoring team in the playoffs. Their highest point scorers this season were a four-way tie between Johnston, Longley, Jayden Boudreau, and Madicynn Harnish with four each. That was good for 17th in the league.
But as we’ve seen the past few days, their defending was remarkable. Dal and MUN allowed just two goals fewer on the season and CBU three fewer. The busy fullback line of Mya Harnish, Rebecca LeBlanc and others rarely allowed anyone with a ball make it to their penalty area. That was a big help for keeper Ramirez who posted a .833 save percentage and five shutouts, second in the AUS.
It’s hard to pick out one or two particular stars on this squad, but the formula has worked. Now, Acadia gets to try their hand against the country’s best for the first time since 1996.
MSOC: Flying Highlanders
Right from the start of the men’s soccer final, it seemed like the CBU Capers had the match in the bag. They were doing so much so good and right throughout, and when the Saint Mary’s Huskies thought they could grab a breather, another wave of Caper attacks hit. SMU even held the deadly offence off the board until almost halftime, but the hosts made it a rout anyway.
Sunday’s match isn’t a knock on SMU. Their play this weekend proved they’re as deserving as anyone to challenge for the AUS title and play at the U SPORTS championships. Against CBU, they stuck with their pushy, aggressive game plan that forced Kairo Coore to take a yellow card later on. Many players were excellent, especially Jensen Brown in goal.
But when you’re a dynasty of four consecutive championships, you’re built differently. While SMU had a successful weekend in Sydney and made it to the final, the Capers are built, time and time again, as a team that wins championships and challenges the best in the country.
Part of their championship recipe has been their stars coming out to shine when they need it most. Coore scored four times in two games. AUS MVP Charlie Waters scored in the final and was the clear best player on the field for long stretches of the last two games. Jose Maria Ribeiro de Cunha, the conference’s rookie of the year, showed his regular season was no fluke. A pair of points early in the second half today gave CBU that final push to bring the championship within their grasp.
From the top down on this Capers team, the tone was set and it was clear through the aggression and urgency every player brought. Talk about close-knit, too. Through the broadcasts of games, I don’t think I’ve seen a team keep things loose and crack jokes like CBU has been, while simultaneously maintaining focus on the pitch and achieving their goals. Some of these things seem to come naturally when you’re an AUS dynasty.
How’d they get here?
CBU has undoubtedly been a favourite (if not the favourite) to win the conference yet again in 2021. They finished second in the regular season, a single point behind the StFX X-Men, while leading the conference in both goals for and goals against.
Aside from an early-season loss to UNB, the Capers rolled along unscathed through much of the regular season schedule. Best of all for them, they won their final four games and five of seven in October to come into the playoffs as the hottest team in the AUS. Nationally, they came into the tournament ranked as the top team in U SPORTS.
As mentioned, their offensive presence is unmatched. Even without the one game this year where they thrashed Mount Allison 10-0, they would still finish second in the AUS in goals. Coore, a through-and-through goal scorer, scored the most goals in AUS men’s soccer (15) since Justin Maheu in 2014. Waters’ numbers were equally nuts, as his 18 goals and 20 points were each league-leading totals.
Whatever they put up in scoring, they matched in defending. De Cuhna and Euan Bauld’s performances at defence were arguably among the best at the position in the CBU dynasty. That’s accounting for fullbacks like former MVP Peter Schaale and first-team all-star Daniel Pritchard. Keeper Daniel Clarke and Jordan Watkins shared much of the year’s workload, with Clarke winning five of eight appearances. Watkins didn’t allow a goal in five appearances.
The moral of the story? CBU is pretty darn good and is a team to beat on the national stage. Given how they played Sunday, they have lots left in the tank too.