Hamilton, ON – When the final whistle blew, ecstasy ensued. “In that moment, I just wanted to give everyone a big hug,” third-year McMaster midfielder Ignacia Jimenez said.
In defeating the Brock Badgers 3-2 in the first round of the OUA playoffs on a cold windy night at Ron Joyce Stadium, the McMaster Marauders found a both new appreciation for the work that needs to happen to take a step forward in the OUA, while also recognizing the value of the fans who stood beside them (and in the weather) for them.
“The fans played a huge part in it,” McMaster defender Bryanna Caldwell said. “Everyone came into the game with a positive attitude and a really good energy.”
The Marauders finished the regular season with three straight wins to earn a home playoff game and as that final whistle blew, they were reminded that it’s about the smaller steps along the way.
“We’ve talked a lot about it’s a lot of little goals that will build up to the bigger goal that we have,” Caldwell added. “Getting further and pushing ourselves to be better and better.”
One of the areas they’ve worked on a lot is set pieces. Jimenez credits assistant coach Melissa Bigg for her work on those plays. The players call her the set piece master.
“She does a great job. She really knows where to position, where we need to go, who needs to take the corner or any free kick in general,” Jimenez noted.
The team practices corners and free kicks a lot on a regular basis. “It is said all the time but practice literally does make perfect,” Caldwell said. Against Brock, it certainly did.
Jimenez’s corner kick found Caldwell, who headed it into the back of the net just under a minute into the game. The fans roared and the Marauders kept going.
The home team created most of the chances early on. They outshot Brock 18-16, hitting the crossbar and forcing Badgers goalie Isabelle Newkirk into making key saves.
Just over 10 minutes later, Jimenez connected with Caldwell again off a corner to make it 2-0. It was Caldwell’s sixth goal of the season.
“I think me and Bry have that special connection,” Jimenez said. “So I look for her every time.”
Through plenty of practice, the Marauders perfected their corners and free kicks, according to Jimenez. Caldwell said when she scores off corners in practice, it makes her confident to do so in games.
“As soon as the ball hits my head, I know if it’s going in or not,” she added. “I’m sure it’s the same when the ball leaves [Jimenez’s] foot.”
The Badgers responded by applying pressure and earning some corners themselves. They received a penalty kick off a handball from one of those. Emily Cirone shot it past a diving Ali Mudie to cut the lead to one.
McMaster kept attacking and pressing though. They won the ball numerous times off pressing Brock’s players, and created scoring chances.
“We do like to high press but the only way that’s going to work is if we all go together,” Jimenez said. They have triggers so they know when to press. It’s also about the defenders, midfielders, forwards and even Mudie being on the same page, according to her.
Their pressing and attacking created more corners. Even the ones they didn’t score, they got the ball on net. With the first half winding down, McMaster struck again.
Jimenez whipped in the corner kick and defender Tiam Pourbakhtiari headed it into the net. The goal restored their two-goal lead and would prove crucial later. It was Pourbakhtiari’s second career goal and first career playoff goal. Her first goal? A game-winning free kick against those same Badgers earlier in the season.
The second half was even with both sides creating chances. With just under three minutes to go in regulation, Brock’s Erica D’Alesio scored off a free kick to cut the lead to one again.
Whenever the Marauders conceded, their focus was on the next five minutes, according to Caldwell.
“We keep our heads up,” she noted. “We take a breath and we kind of just look at each other and realize it’s still our game. We’re still up. We still can have momentum if we want to.”
The team defended the final six minutes for the victory. They’ve improved throughout the season, from their season opening draw versus Western to now.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is every game, every practice, we have gotten better,” Caldwell said. “With every game in the season, we’ve taken steps forward and we’ve accomplished new goals and we’re making ourselves a better team.”
Their scoring has picked up recently with a season-high three goals against Laurier on seniors day and three again versus Brock.
“I feel like we hit a few points during the season where [confidence] might have dropped a little bit,” Jimenez said. “The win against Laurier definitely helped us. It helped us realize that we can compete with anyone, and we can play.”
Next up is a rematch against the reigning OUA finalist Western Mustangs on Oct. 29. The Mustangs finished as the top seed in the OUA West. The Marauders drew at Western to start the year (equalizing off a Caldwell corner coincidentally) and lost 1-0 to the Mustangs at home.
“It’s going to be a tough game but we’re excited. I’m really looking forward to it,” Jimenez said. “We’re going to take tonight, like we said, to celebrate but tomorrow we work again.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics