QUÉBEC CITY, QC – Danielle Steer picks up the ball on the wing and takes three touches to get around her defender before picking out a switch for Jayda Thompson, allowing the rookie to send in a cross, setting up an easy tap-in goal for Katalin Tolnai.
Although only an insurance goal in UBC’s 4-1 consolation semifinal win against the York Lions, the goal showed where the UBC Thunderbirds program has been and where it will go.
Supplied by a record holder, set up by a rookie and finished by a galvanic striker who’s set to return in 2023.
“Our young ones have to learn and grow, and it shows what we have coming up right now and what we’ve had,” head coach Jesse Symons told 49 Sports.”Jayda [Thompson] was good today, and we had Ella Sunde, Dakota [Beckett] in goal and Taiya Dennehy as a holding midfielder, so it’s good to see that we have players who can step up to this level.”
The Thunderbirds, coming off the disappointment of a quarter-final penalties loss to the host Laval Rouge et Or, were confident to start the match. Playing most of their top players, save for those who picked up knocks on Saturday, the ‘Birds began quickly, maintaining possession and playing with emotion.
It took until the 20th minute for the Thunderbirds to find their breakthrough when Ella Nuttal-Smith stuck her foot threw a poorly defended corner kick, pushing the ball past Vancouver’s Ava Jones into the York net.
UBC didn’t take their foot off the gas, as Steer sent a piercing ball through York’s defence to Nisa Reehal on the right wing, who set up Ava Alexander for the tap-in, 2-0 tally.
Despite UBC leaning into possession, the York Lions found a goal in the 38th minute. Captain Jotam Chouham opted for a long ball, picking out OUA Rookie of the Year Nia Fleming-Thompson, who stormed in on UBC’s Dakota Beckett before poking the ball past, bringing the Gee-Gees within a goal.
However, the Vancouver side pushed on, with Tolnai and Sunde picking up the third and fourth goals, sending the T-Birds past York and into Sunday’s 5th-place match.
“It was a tough game to be in. Obviously, we want to play on the other side, but it was still fun to play another game,” UBC midfielder Tolnai said. “It was a quick turnaround after 120 minutes and penalties from last night.”
From tears to a potential last match, the turnaround from a quarter-final loss to the consolation semifinal games is never easy at the U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championships, especially for a UBC side that fell in penalties.
Yet, as they approach the final game with their 2019 U SPORTS Championship core, there’s a feeling of unity within the group, now just wanting to end their time together with a win.
“This group loves playing together, and they love competing, regardless of the game they’re going to get after it,” Symons said. “We were able to get around goal today a lot and got back to our scoring ways.”
The 5th-place game wasn’t the plan for the UBC Thunderbirds, but with the match postponed to Sunday morning due to weather, they get a crack at their rival TWU Spartans on the last day of the season, something only six teams can say they’ve achieved in 2022.
Meanwhile, on the other side, the York Lions head back to North Toronto and are done for the year, saying goodbye to stars such as Chouhan as head coach Carmine Isacco stares down a younger team for next season.
Cover photo: Yan Doublet/U SPORTS