WSOC: CanWest, RSEQ squads will play for medals at soccer nationals

CAPE BRETON, NS – One day and four matches later, we already know the winner of the 2021 U SPORTS women’s soccer championship will be either a Canada West or RSEQ team.

The western province teams went three for three on Thursday at the Cape Breton Health and Recreation Complex field. In the process, they knocked out both AUS teams and an OUA squad from medal contention. Later in the day, the tournament’s lone RSEQ team stayed alive, leaving the last Ontario team out of the championship round. 

There were close and not-so-close games. There were also others that were more comfortable than others to play in (or watch) as the Cape Breton climate displayed little mercy.

The players and coaches were in the midst of it all. This week, I will be speaking with many of them on their matches and what their takeaways are from them in the first national championship in two years. There will be plenty to hear from them throughout the championships. On Thursday, they were on a mission to fight their way into Saturday’s semifinals. Have a look at how things went. 

Griffins going for gold

(Vaughan Merchant)

The MacEwan Griffins will always remember their first-ever U SPORTS nationals win. In fact, I think a lot of people will remember that one.

The drama of Abbey Wright’s 81st-minute goal said it all. The Queen’s Gaels seemed to have most of the offensive push through the match but after a ricochet at the top of their 18-yard box, the ball found Wright all alone, who beat keeper Kristin Tynan from in close.

The players, coaches, crowd and, well, everyone were a bit shocked, mostly because of how close the play appeared to being offside. Queen’s thought the goal, for sure, would be called back. Tynan signalled to the referee as soon as the ball went in. But the goal stood and so did the Griffins’ 2-1 victory.

“I was surprised I was right there. Then I was like ‘please don’t sky this.’ I was really hoping it would go in,” Wright said on her winning goal. “I’m really grateful it did.” 

“We’re overjoyed,” coach Dean Cordeiro said of possibly the biggest goal in program history. “We always activate Abby [as a set piece] and she was at the right place at the right time.”

It was MacEwan who opened the scoring 34 minutes into the first half, on a nice touch from Grace Mwasalla that found Salma Kamel at the edge of the box. She popped the ball over the head of Tynan into the goal.

Four minutes later, the Gaels’ Marissa Gravel turned on the jets, blowing by MacEwan’s fullbacks before launching the shot over Breanna Truscott’s shoulder to tie it. While chances died down in the second half, both sides were roughly even. 

“I thought we played decent for most of the game. We were a little loose with some of our play, especially in the penalty area,” Queen’s coach Dave McDowell. “To [MacEwan’s] credit, they took their chances and were more efficient than we were.”

The Queen’s offence kept the Griffin fullbacks busy all game, especially go-to strikers Jenna Matsukubo and Christie Gray. Midfielder Tori Chia said a lot went right up front, but not on the scoreboard.

“I think we really capitalized with our speed out there and we kept pressure through the middle. I thought we did a decent job trying to break down the last third, but we couldn’t get that last goal when we needed it,” she said.

Wright was able to get that last goal for the opponents. She didn’t waste time deflecting credit though. 

“We have this motto called ‘we before me.’ I think our unity as a team pushed us forward,” she said. “Having each other’s backs all over the field really helped us today.”

Axewomen give defending champs all they can handle

(Vaughan Merchant)

It certainly didn’t look like the Acadia Axewomen could keep pace with Canada West’s second-best team through the first half. With every chance, the UBC Thunderbirds looked to be wearing the AUS champions out. It was miraculous, thanks to rookie keeper Milena Ramirez, the match was scoreless after that span.

But then we saw the signature Acadia style of game, plus a bit more, come out. Even though UBC squeezed out the 1-1 victory in penalty kicks, it was as dead-even as could be through 120 minutes of play.

“Credit to Acadia defensively. [Ramirez] made some fantastic saves. We had to step up for our keeper to end the match today,” UBC coach Jesse Symons said, highlighting the keeper duel in the marathon match. [Emily Moore] made two big saves in penalties. She helped us into the semifinals today.”

“[UBC] moves the ball quickly and they’re good in the air. They’re good for a reason,” Axewomen coach Amit Batra said. “They had some golden chances, but I don’t think there was a lot of difference between the two teams. It could have gone either way.”

The Thunderbirds were very much in control early on when Aislin Phillips finally beat Ramirez in the 50th minute. From then on, Acadia turned the tide with some opportunities of their own.

Of those chances was Jayden Boudreau’s tying goal—ahem, goal-of-the-tournament candidate— in the 68th, a bullet from well over 20 yards out that went bar-down on Moore. Axewomen captain Lauren Jodrey said big performances from Boudreau, Ramirez and others were huge in their effort.

“Milena’s been stellar. She’s only in her first year, so you can only imagine her improvement later on. Jayden’s so clutch. She was like Ronaldo on that goal,” Jodrey grinned. “Our midfield was tight and it was so good all around. It shows how tight the game was.”

Each side threw punch after punch throughout the rest of the half and the extra time periods. It was UBC, however, who came out gunning in the penalty shootout, scoring on three of their four shots to seal the victory.

UBC’s Sophia Damian was right in the midst of Thursday’s battles, briefly leaving the match after getting tackled onto the CBU track surrounding the field. She soon returned to score in the penalty shootout. 

“I always get tossed over, that was nothing. Just another day at the job,” she chuckled about her role on the team. “Our team’s a family. Our belief in each other got us there today. When you look around, you just want to support each other.”

Spartans spoil host’s party

(CBU Athletics)

That may be a bit of an understatement, as the Trinity Western Spartans dominated the Cape Breton Capers wire-to-wire on the back of a 4-0 triumph. 

As the wind and wet conditions intensified at roughly 5 p.m. local time, the playing conditions were gradually shifting too. Trin West was every bit as ready as the hometown Capers were, taking advantage of two first-half goals off of corner kicks to set the tone throughout the match. 

“We knew coming in against the host would be a big challenge, so we made it our goal to come out in the first 15 minutes and press as a team,” Elizabeth Hicks said. TWU got on the board in the 24th minute, followed by a Hicks goal as time expired in the half. “Our goal was to come out and come out hard.”

With the wind against the Spartans in the match’s back half, CBU pushed back at first. The Capers’ leading scorer, Ally Rowe, got a few good cracks including a shot off the post. Teammates like Erin Freeman were active around the TWU net as well, but couldn’t break the ice.

As Trinity Western adapted, they forced greater amounts of the play upfield, as they did in the first half. Then, the final two nails in the coffin came in the 83rd and 85th minutes through two quick Spartans tallies.

“In the second half, I thought we played some intelligent soccer. We faced a tough wind, but we kept the ball on the ground and generated chances,” Spartans coach and 2021 U SPORTS women’s soccer coach of the year Graham Roxburgh said. “Our front three generated lots of chances all game because of their pace and ability to get into wide spots. I thought our midfield was strong today and outplayed theirs.

While the elements affected each side equally, Capers keeper Haley Kardas said their opponent adapted better and took advantage of what they could. 

“They’re really good at moving the ball but we had a hard time doing that like we usually do,” she said. “We’re good at going long and wide with the ball but they were good at holding us off from going down their way.”

“They have a lot of speed upfront. They just kept attacking in waves,” CBU coach Ness Timmons said of the Spartans’ attack. “They scored on two headers where they were first to the ball. They certainly got the jump on us there.”

As Trin West now has Laval in their headlights for Saturday’s semifinals, Hicks said Thursday’s celebration would be short.

“It feels great to win but the biggest thing is focusing on this next game,” she said. “We aren’t dwelling too much in the moment now but looking forward to what we can do next.”

Rouge-et-Or emerges from scrappy affair victorious

(Western Mustangs)

If anyone got the full Cape Breton experience on day one of the tournament, it would have to be the Laval Rouge-et-Or and the Western Mustangs. Rain, wind, cold temperatures (maybe snow for a minute?), you name it. Not exactly what you would call ”soccer weather.”

Each team experienced each side of the wind gusts, one for each half, a factor that played into this game most of all. Each team powered through against the gales at times. But Laval had the wind to their backs when Arielle Roy-Petitclerc buried the match’s lone goal in the second half, which would seal a semifinal berth for the RSEQ champions. 

“This year, I didn’t really score as much. The goal today was important,” Roy-Petitclerc said of her 60th-minute marker. As a teammate crossed the ball toward the Western net, Mustangs keeper Samantha St. Croix had trouble securing it. Roy-Petitclerc was right there and put it up high after a few cracks at the shot. “I’m happy because of the goal, but also because we played well tonight.”

Laval played against the wind in the first half and found a way to secure much of the possession in the half. Western had higher-quality scoring chances but no effort on either side was enough to shift the zeroes on the scoreboard.

While the Mustangs needed time to adjust to the conditions in the second half, the Rouge-et-Or took what they had and ran with it. Already with some missed opportunities, either with shots wide or denied by St. Croix,  Laval was knocking on Western’s door. Roy-Petitclerc burst it down, literally being on the Mustangs’ goal line when she punched the ball home. 

“The game was tough because of the conditions. But after the first half, we were positive knowing we could do something interesting in the second half,” Laval assistant coach Nabil Haned said on the team getting comfortable with that extra edge late in the game. “The target was to play with our qualities, possess the ball and be patient. That’s what we did.” 

Roy-Petitclerc agreed.

“The first half was the hardest with the wind and all that. The second half was easier by comparison,” she said. “We were in their zone maybe 70 per cent of the second half.”

Western coach Martin Painter said Laval showed their experience and toughness in pulling out their win Thursday, which was important in such a game with a harsh environment.

“All over the field, they had experience and poise,” he said. “It was a really good play by their winger to create movement in the box and that was it. Really good goal by a good team. No question our effort was there but I think the best team won.”

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