Ottawa, ON – With seconds remaining in the first half of the 2022 OUA Women’s Soccer Championship, Ottawa Gee-Gees second-year forward Nibo Dlamini stepped up to the penalty spot.
For 45 minutes, her Ottawa Gee-Gees side had yet to find a breakthrough. A free kick from OUA-leading goal-scorer Cassandra Provost in the 38th minute that wired off the crossbar was the closest the deadlock had come to being broken.
With the game so close, Dlamini knew what that one kick could mean but also knew not to get in her own head.
“I try to just blank out; I don’t try to focus too much on what’s going on in the moment because that’s when nerves will start coming in,” Dlamini said.
Dlamini stepped up, slotted the ball into the left corner past York keeper Ava Jones and gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead they would never relinquish.
A championship game often comes down to meeting the moment. With a razor’s edge between teams, there are usually just single opportunities to create the separation that makes a winner or a loser in a final.
With their 1-0 win over the York Lions to win their 10th OUA championship in program history, the Ottawa Gee-Gees demonstrated, as they have done so many times before, why there has never been a team quite as adept at meeting the moment as them.
The Gee-Gees and the Lions arrived at Matt Anthony Field on Saturday afternoon following dramatic road victories in the OUA semifinals. The Gee-Gees, playing at Western, took a 0-0 game to penalty kicks before coming away with the win.
On the other side, the Lions travelled to Richardson Stadium to play Queen’s, where after forcing extra time at 2-2, Alexandra Quaidoo won it in the 119th minute to send York to the OUA Final.
For the Lions especially, their dramatic comeback against the Gaels, erasing 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, set them up with momentum heading into the final match.
“We had to claw back against Queen’s, which was a massive game, we played a team that was ranked, and we were unranked at the time,” Lions forward and OUA West MVP Jotam Chouhan said. “So to be able to bounce back in that was a big win and gave us momentum coming into this.”
Whatever the momentum might have been for the Lions, the first half saw the Gees-Gees play like a team with gold in their sights, and eleven shots for Ottawa forced four saves from York keeper Ava Jones to stay active. On the other side, the Lions struggled to build momentum as they struggled to stay out of foul trouble with ten fouls in the half, each whistle blow drawing loud boos from the 100 or so York fans filling their supporter section.
The score held at 0-0 until, with seconds to go in the first half, a penalty call in the York box set up Dlamini for her opportunity to meet the moment as she gave the Gee-Gees the 1-0 lead.
With the halftime whistle coming seconds later, it sent York to the break reeling and forced head coach Carmine Issaco to adapt his approach.
“We look to push a player forward, we look to get some support in the middle of the field, and we look to get our wide players a little higher,” Issaco said.
Into the second half, the pressure slowly started to shift in the other direction. A 77th-minute corner kick forced a challenging diving save out of Ottawa keeper Juliann Lacasse, but the Gee-Gees continued to hold. With everything Ottawa had been through this season, closing the game out was something they felt they had the experience to do.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges this season, especially in Mexico it was back-to-back really difficult games, so I think prepared us really well for these tight moments,” Dlamini said
“Even during the season, we had tough games with Queen’s and the unfortunate loss to Toronto, so I think we really put a lot of tools in our toolbox to deal with situations like this.”
The Lions continued to press but, unlike Ottawa, could not get the shot they needed to go in.
“We all came off the field absolutely exhausted; it was just in the little details; the ball just wasn’t going in the net,” Chouhan said.
When the final whistle blew, the Gee-Gees had the win, the title and were back on top of the OUA for the first time since 2018.
For the Lions, recent champions in their own right, they recognized that the reality of a championship game is that one very good team has to lose.
“Disillusioned by how we lost? Probably. Maybe a little bit, looking internally myself, maybe we should have been a little more aggressive in our pressing in the first half,” coach Issaco said.
“That was the plan, but they’re a very solid team with good players, and I’m not ashamed to lose to a team like that.”
Both sides move on to the U SPORTS National Championship in Quebec City.
For now, though, the Gee-Gees get to celebrate and enjoy the moment before they reset and run it back, the same as they always have.
“We’ll give them a chance to celebrate what they’ve done in the OUA this season and then reset for nationals,” Gee-Gees head coach Steve Johnson said. “Very similar to what we had to do after we went down to Mexico, reset and come back and have this as our goal.”