WSOC: Laval, Queen’s end seasons on winning notes

CAPE BRETON, NS – Three of four consolation games in the U SPORTS women’s soccer national championships, the bronze medal game included, needed penalty shootouts to decide their winners. 

Both consolation semifinals and the bronze medal match went the distance. These results were in part due to the fact there are no extra time periods in consolation games, instead skipping right to penalty kicks.

The bronze medal game was a gruelling one on either side. Each squad suffered heartbreaking semifinal losses in extra time Saturday afternoon, giving the injury-plagued teams mere hours to regroup for an 11 a.m. kickoff Sunday morning.

The fifth-placed game involved a pair of teams taking part in their third matches in as many days. Both sides fell to the eventual tournament finalists in the quarters but bounced back in those penalty kick victories to begin their consolation rounds. The biggest motivator in Saturday night’s matchup was to cap off the tournament with a winning record.

Two teams, the Laval Rouge et Or and the Queen’s Gaels, did that in their final games of nationals.

Rouge et Or bring Quebec representation to the podium

Laval players and coaches rush to keeper Myriam Labrecque (black jersey, #1) after making the final stop in Laval’s penalty shootout triumph over UBC. (Vaughan Merchant)

Sunday’s bronze medal matchup between Laval and the UBC Thunderbirds was a roller coaster. Like many of the games in the tournament, this one needed to go the distance on the strength of stellar defensive efforts on both sides.

The game also saw each keeper, Myriam Labrecque for Laval and Emily Moore for UBC, cap off their tournaments with perhaps their best performances of the weekend. Each making six saves in the match, there was sure to be at least a goal or two had they not been in net. 

Even in the penalty shootout, the two were neck-and-neck for the first two rounds. But Labrecque pulled a pair of tricks out of her sleeve on the last two UBC attempts, denying Danielle Steer and Vanessa Torne’s shots. 

“When I entered the shootout, I thought about how the girls on the team are warriors,” Labrecque said. “They went to war yesterday and today, so it was my job to help them win.”

With Daphnee Blovin and Cynthia Gaspar-Freire scoring on Laval’s final shots, the Rouge-et-Or secured a spot on the national podium with a 0-0 win. After falling in a high-scoring affair versus Trinity Western in Saturday’s semifinal, Laval recovered to keep the Thunderbirds off the board and head back to Quebec City with bronze medals.

“Labrecque had a huge season. She was the most important player in the [RSEQ] final. Before the tournament, I told her she would be a major piece in our success,” Laval assistant coach Nabil Haned said following the match. “Before penalty kicks, I told her if there’s one person that has no pressure on them, it’s her.”

The opening half of the game involved some strong two-way play from each team. The marquee matchup was UBC’s attack led by Danielle Steer, Michelle Jang and Jade Taylor-Ryan against Laval’s fullbacks, namely centre-back Cynthia Gaspar-Freire. The T-Birds crossed the ball unbelievably well around the half’s midpoint, but the Rouge-et-Or’s defensive pressure prevented them from burying their best looks at goal.

With the teams coming off extra time semifinal matches played less than a day earlier, signs of exhaustion of each side became evident partway through the final 45 minutes. On that end, both sides stepped up the physicality, leading to a pair of yellow cards for Laval. 

As many as two or three uncalled collisions took place in the penalty area near the end, which could have very well changed the game’s complexion. But no one could crack either team’s defensive armour before full-time as they forced their way to penalty kicks.

Despite running on fumes and facing the injury bug this weekend, T-Birds coach Jesse Symons said this game was his team’s best of the tournament. 

“It was an excellent game between two very talented teams. It was a well-played possession-based game,” he said. “Our identity really showed through today. We kept the ball well. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get that goal today. Sometimes penalties go your way, sometimes the other way.”

UBC’s Sophia Ferreira was on the wrong end of many collisions all tournament and suffered injuries, including a concussion diagnosed post-game. She, like many teammates, powered through in Sunday’s game to give her squad a chance to win. 

“Knowing it was the last game with our seniors and they’ve put their heart and soul onto the field drove us. Knowing they’ve gone 100 per cent for us, we wanted to do it for them,” the rookie fullback said. “Getting an injury isn’t the best, but I wanted to win it for them and for UBC.”

Labrecque said helping Laval find the podium Sunday felt extra good as her team found a way to pull off the win for those not able to play or, for seniors, playing for the final time.

“A lot of players were hurt yesterday and today. To get the players on the bench the medal, it’s such a great gift to give them,” the fourth-year said. “Everyone is part of the team. We saw that today.”

Gaels attack shines in fifth-place match

Jenna Matsukubo
Jenna Matsukubo (#2, yellow) scored two timely second half goals to power Queen’s over CBU in the tournament’s fifth-place match. (Vaughan Merchant)

Just before Queen’s went off for three goals in a 10-minute span versus the Cape Breton Capers Saturday night, you could tell their high-flying offence was getting close to breaking through. 

They directed 15 shots at opponents’ nets in the first two games of the tournament. They beat MacEwan keeper Breanna Truscott just once in their quarterfinal loss versus the Griffins. Queen’s won their next game in penalties but Acadia’s Milena Ramirez stopped all five shots on net in regulation play.

With players like Jenna Matsukubo, Christie Gray and Hannah Melchiorre moving the ball around like nobody’s business versus CBU, it would be a miracle had none of them scored. They combined for all three goals in a 3-0 victory that gave them the fifth-place spot.

“It felt good to put a couple in the back of the net. It’s been such a fun season and playing with players like Christie Gray and Cecilia Way has been a blast,” Matsukubo said. With two goals on the match, she snapped a season-long four-game goalless streak. “I’m not sure how we found [that extra push in the second half]. But I think once you put one in the back of the net, the next few become easier.”

The first 45 minutes of the match were as tight as could be. Cape Breton had the lion’s share of time spent on the attack, generating three shots on Gaels keeper Kirstin Tynan and three corner kicks. Even early in the second half, CBU threatened the hardest. An Amelia Carlini free kick from long hit the goal post just moments into the half, which could have done all kinds of wonders for the host team’s momentum. 

Queen’s hit a post themselves not long after. Then, Matsukubo’s marker in the 65th minute off a setup from Sophie Miranda was what burst open the floodgates for the Gaels. 

Matsukubo added her second goal of the evening in the 71st, redirecting a spot-on cross from Gray. Three minutes later, Melchiorre used the wind to her advantage, curving her corner kick perfectly out of the reach of CBU’s Haley Kardas to extend the lead to three. In what was easily their most dominant stretch of play in the tournament, they were awarded seven different corners in the final half en route to their final win of 2021. 

“I kind of felt like that all tournament, that it was a question of when,” Queen’s coach Dave McDowell said about his team’s offensive stars finally breaking through for a big game. “It’s nice to put those goals away. I’m super proud of them and super proud of the year we had. It was really important for us to finish strong.”

The Capers’ Carlini said given the game was so close in terms of shot totals (shot attempts were 15-13 in favour of Queen’s), it came down to who finished their chances. That’s where the Gaels earned the edge. 

“It was pretty equal early in the second half. We had a good amount of chances too, but couldn’t finish any,” she said. “We had a wonderful first half. We were moving the ball around them well. We did a good job just playing how we play today and I don’t think the score really shows who had more control.”

With the match being scoreless outside that ten-minute span midway through the second half, CBU coach Ness Timmons agreed the game was closer than the score suggested. 

“Once they got one goal, it kind of opened up from there. When you’re playing a tight soccer game and it’s 0-0 for so long, everybody is disciplined and organized. When the goal was scored, things changed,” he said. “We played a solid game. But they went bang-bang-bang and that’s the way soccer happens sometimes. All credit to Queen’s; they played a great game.”

The OUA champion Gaels, in a sense, take the unofficial crown as the top team in both the top Ontario and AUS squad. The consolation bracket included all the tournament’s teams from those conferences, while the championship bracket housed all the CanWest and RSEQ squads. Queen’s beat both AUS representatives, Acadia and CBU, on their way to winning fifth place. 

Matsukubo said it was great to end the tournament off with those two wins despite not playing for the big prize.

“It was nice to end off on a win, even though CBU put up a great fight,” she said. “It could have been a different result so, for both of us, it was a good game to end on.”

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