TORONTO, ON – The UBC Thunderbirds know all about qualifying for nationals. Still, they face a more elusive task when they take to the pitch at their own Thunderbird Stadium on Friday evening for a semifinal matchup.
Despite winning the U SPORTS Nationals in 2019, the Thunderbirds, led by head coach Jesse Symons, have yet to win a Canada West title since 2016. In 2022, a year where UBC matched a program record 13 wins in a season, they look to grab the Canada West crown on home turf.
Although UBC aims to return to the conference’s pinnacle, the biggest story of the weekend comes from Kamloops, as the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack look to punch a ticket to their first-ever U SPORTS Championships.
TRU Wolfpack looks to continue underdog story against TWU
If there’s a team flying on momentum, it’s the TRU Wolfpack. Taking on their first-ever Canada West Final Four, the Wolfpack come to UBC off a penalty shootout victory against the MRU Cougars, one that they grabbed after coming back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game in the 89th minute.
It’s the definition of house money – everything from this point is gravy.
Meanwhile, all the pressure lies upon the defending CanWest champion TWU Wolfpack. They have lost only twice in their last 30 competitive matches, keeping clean sheets through their last four playoff tilts.
For the Spartans, the game will be about maintaining position throughout and relying on upstart rookies Charis Wardrope and Sophie Crowther to lead the way, with veterans such as Maddie Melnychuk and Tilly James playing supporting roles through the team’s spine.
“We talk all about the time about our character, and they’ve shown once again that they just don’t know when they’re beaten,” said WolfPack head coach Mark Pennington to TRU Athletics following the win over MRU. “They just dig deep, and the belief in this group is outstanding; I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’ve been unbelievable all year.”
“I think this season has been a tipping point, and you know, maybe people start taking our program seriously because of what we’ve shown.”
While TWU is the outright favourite, the Wolfpack will turn to their experience as well, including fourth-year goalkeeper Marissa Young, who stood on her head throughout the game against MRU, not allowing a goal on eight MRU penalty kicks. Meanwhile, midfielders Emily Clark and Camryn Curts will look to control the game’s pace of play when they get on the ball, which may not be too much.
Whether it’s a berth at nationals or not for the Wolfpack, it’s been an exceptional season a program sitting on the precipice of a legendary season at the Canada West Final Four.
PREDICTION: TWU 3-1 TRU
UBC and Calgary rekindle rivalry in semifinal
The Calgary Dinos did something no other team could achieve in 2022 – beat the UBC Thunderbirds. Now, they look to do the same thing in the Canada West semifinal as they look to book their spot in the U SPORTS National Tournament, albeit this time on UBC’s home turf.
The Dinos, who left it late but squeaked by the Alberta Pandas in the quarter-final on a Sofia Digiacomo 95th-minute headed goal, travel west to take on the Canada West Final Four, hoping to return to the conference final for the first time since 2019 when they won the Canada West banner.
At the same time, UBC, who haven’t prevailed in the Canada West Final Four since 2016, will hope their historically successful 13-win season translates into weekend tournaments, first for the conference and then for U SPORTS Championships.
As usual, keep an eye on UBC’s attacking duo of Katalin Tolnai and Danielle Steer as they look to bring a conference title to end their years-long partnership. Although Steer played significant minutes in the quarter-final and didn’t get on the scoresheet, she continued her off-ball contributions, while Tolnai scored a first-half hat trick against the Regina Cougars.
“We’re proud of our regular season, but our program lives for competing for banners and national championships,” head coach Jesse Symons to UBC Athletics. “Calgary has had a great season and has some good attacking threats. We’ll have to manage those accordingly, and then hopefully, we can get around their goal and create for ourselves.”
In addition, Jade Taylor-Ryan scored a hat trick against Regina and comes into the game as a stellar supporting option for the two mainstay attackers.
Meanwhile, for Calgary, everything runs through Rachel Barlow, the third-year forward who scored against Alberta and played a role in all three goals. She often drops back to hold the ball and service her other attacking players while sometimes getting up to lead the attack herself; nevertheless, she’ll be a handful for UBC.
Friday’s match won’t be straightforward for either team, but both have the potential to use a win as a launchpad for games of greater significance both in the must-win conference bronze medal match and the National Championships.
PREDICTION: UBC 3-2 CALGARY
With both the UBC men’s and women’s teams finishing first in their respective divisions, UBC Athletics is hosting both the men’s and women’s final four in Canada West. Because of that, some dates have been changed, with the men’s final now scheduled for Sunday.