QUEBEC CITY, QC – Walking off the pitch after falling 4-0 to the TWU Spartans, the CBU Capers’ search for a home turf gold medal in 2021 didn’t go as planned. But, for a team with U SPORTS Championship hopes as hosts, bowing out in the opening round couldn’t have been worse.
While the Capers finished the tournament in the sixth, winning a consolation semifinal before losing the 5th-place match to Queen’s, it was a disappointing end to a year full of promise. Yet, they’re back at the national tournament in 2022, this time in Quebec City, seeking the medal that eluded them 12 months ago.
As they approach the national tournament, there’s less pressure than entering as hosts and a little more confidence coming in as AUS Champions rather than representatives. Last year’s AUS Champions, the Acadia Axewomen, missed out on the U SPORTS tournament this season.
Led by head coach Ness Timmons, Cape Breton finished the AUS regular season with a 10-2-0 record, which began with five straight wins, all clean sheets. Although a 3-1 loss to the StFX X-Women gave them a wake-up call to start October, the Capers have rolled since then, only losing a tight game to Dalhousie.
Although the Capers steamrolled through the AUS this season, the whole conference will be pulling for their success, as they represent the only team from an often overlooked division of U SPORTS women’s soccer.
There are several strengths that the Capers bring to the national stage. Still, their stingy play style and ability to score without much of the ball will be critical, especially against teams that may be more technically sound, coming from conferences that demand more possession.
The tight defence, anchored by first-team AUS All-Star Fatou Ndiaye, conceded just eight times through the season, as goalkeeper Haley Kardas played 11 matches and was only forced into making 37 saves.
Those two fifth-year players and standouts will be critical if the Capers are to find any success in Quebec City, in what will not only be a special tournament for the whole team but for Ndiaye in particular, playing just hours away from her hometown in Pierrefonds, Quebec.
In midfield, look for AUS second-team All-Star Grace Hannaford to settle the play down on the ball, playing alongside AUS golden goalscorer Amelia Carlini. The duo, who tend to play in a near pivot, bring experience to the team as they venture outside of the AUS. Hannaford ended the season with three goals, while Carlini scored once, playing in a deeper pocket.
Paige Allaby and Senate Letsie will also play portions of the tournament in midfield, as they bring a combined eight goals and seven assists to the Capers’ lineup.
If there’s one difference maker from the AUS, however, it’s the conference’s player of the year, Aaliyah Rowe, who tormented Atlantic Canadian defences with her shifty play on the ball and ability to find spaces in transition. With those qualities paired with astute finishing, Rowe finished the season with 12 goals and four assists, topping the AUS.
The Capers take on the OUA runner-up York Lions in their quarter-final match and will be tasked with shutting down forward Nia Fleming-Thompson, as well as navigating an attacking path through a strong centre-back pairing of Bianca Jack and Brooke-Lynn Mitchell.
Yet, despite the difficult draw in the opening round of the Quebec City tournament, there’s remarkable confidence the Capers can approach the match with as they seek the medal that eluded them on their home pitch in 2021.