TORONTO, ON – With two weeks gone in the U SPORTS women’s soccer season, the early storylines and contenders are making their way to the limelight. Albeit early, some all-time marks are within reach, while highly touted first years begin to make their marks.
49 Sports jumps into what’s been happening across the four conferences.
Canada West: UBC and MacEwan the stories again
Starting a week earlier than the rest, the Canada West season is already entering its third match week, and the UBC Thunderbirds and MacEwan Griffins have been at the forefront of storylines, as they have been the last several years.
The start could not have been better for MacEwan, a group looking to bounce back after defaulting games due to fielding an ineligible player in 2022. Led by talismanic striker Grace Mwasalla, the Griffins are 4-0-0 through their opening matches and have scored goals at critical moments.
While late goals have decided three of MacEwan’s first four matches, the group has shown a desire to win and defies doubts despite opposition challenges. At the same time, Mwasalla has taken the conference and U SPORTS by storm, scoring six goals in four matches.
The third-year forward has scored four straight game-winning goals and two within the final five minutes of play. Although the season may still be in its infancy, the Canada West all-time single-season goalscoring record is within reach. Mwasalla is on pace to beat Montana Leonard’s mark of 17 set with the Calgary Dinos in 2021.
On the UBC side, it has been an intriguing start to the season, which saw them have an off week in the second round of games. However, their opening matches, 1-0 wins against the UFV Cascades and TWU Spartans, showcased a defensively aware team with a dynamic yet unsettled attack.
Highlighting UBC’s start are rookies, including highly sought-after recruit Bailey Doerksen, who scored from a distance on her debut. Meanwhile, the attack of Katalin Tolnai, Jayda Thompson and Sophie Damian continues to threaten.
While the high-scoring moments have yet to return for UBC, the defence has been stout, with Dakota Beckett making five saves against TWU, helping her side to 180 minutes of clean-sheet football., It’s also impossible to overlook the instant contribution of rookie defender Sarah Rollins, who has taken on significant minutes alongside veteran centreback Jacqueline Tyrer.
UBC also hosted their annual Jumpstart game, welcoming 5,000+ fans to Thunderbird Stadium. However, scheduling only permitted them to host an exhibition contest against the Douglas College Royals.
UBC and MacEwan appear primed to continue their early success, with others playing catchup, including strong sides at Calgary and TWU. The two sides face each other on Sept. 22.
Gaels evolving in OUA, McMaster proving a darkhorse
While Canada West has been competing for two weeks and started their preseason far earlier, the OUA got underway this past weekend.
Three teams, the McMaster Marauders, Windsor Lancers and Queen’s Gaels, exited the first weekend with perfect records through two matches. At the same time, the Western Mustangs, Carleton Ravens, Ottawa Gee-Gees and Nipissing Lakers haven’t dropped points despite just playing one game.
Alena Spehar led the way for the Marauders on the opening weekend, scoring six goals in two games to tie her for the national lead alongside Mwasalla. Her attacking prowess also helped McMaster to a 3-2 win over the Waterloo Warriors away from home, where she scored each of the goals, and helped buoy them to a 4-0 home win over Waterloo.
The home and home matches often dominate the early part of the OUA season, and it was no different this season. It is difficult to distinguish genuine contenders after the opening few weekends, with some sides not playing challenging opposition. However, McMaster’s wins over Waterloo continued the themes and promise they showed in the preseason against more testing foes.
Similarly, the non-challenging opponent marker applies to the still-perfect Lancers, who won 9-0 and 5-0 against an Algoma Thunderbirds women’s program that hasn’t lost since a 1-1 draw with the TMU Bold in 2021. Algoma has no wins, one draw and 125 losses since 2014.
The Queen’s Gaels and uOttawa Gee-Gees also provided intrigue in their opening week. Despite losing key strikers Christy Gray and Cecilia Way in the last two seasons, the Queen’s Gaels maintained fluidity in attack, using wide areas before relying on crosses to work the ball inside.
Led by head coach Dave McDowell, Queen’s defeated Toronto and Ontario Tech 2-0 to open the season, with first-year Leda Naihin settling into the OUA level quickly with two goals in as many games, while second-years Mattson Strickler and Seema Sakran also helped push the Gaels’ transitions.
Kirstin Tynan, a third-year goalkeeper who played significant minutes in the summer with the TSS Rovers of League 1 BC, kept the two clean sheets, making five stops.
On the uOttawa Gee-Gees side, the likes of Nibo Dlamini and Cassandra Provost picked up from where they ended 2022, as Ottawa dominated Trent en route to a 5-0 win. Carleton also defeated the Toronto Varsity Blues 1-0.
It will take a few weeks for contenders to emerge in the OUA, but after week one, keep an eye on uOttawa, Queen’s and McMaster in particular.
Cape Breton Capers dominate the opening weekend of AUS
Cape Breton Capers forward Grace Hannaford continued her strong U SPORTS career on the opening weekend of AUS play, scoring six goals across two matches, including a brace in a 3-2 win over the UNB Reds and four in a 7-1 rout of the Moncton Aigles Bleus.
Alliyah Rowe also found the back of the net in both games, scoring a hat trick against Moncton and a single goal against UNB.
While the Capers look to be among the contenders in Atlantic Canada for yet another season, their U SPORTS rivals from Wolfville, NS, the Acadia Axewomen, proved they are a force to watch, defeating the SMU Huskies 5-1 and putting up a seven-goal clean sheet on the UPEI Panthers.
Outside of the top two contenders, the StFX X-Women left the first weekend with six points, authoring their own 8-0 Moncton thrashing while beating UNB 3-2. However, their style was less conducive to consistent success than the heavily possessive Axewomen.
As has been the case for several years in the AUS, there are tiers in women’s soccer, and in 2023, it appears the title challengers will include Cape Breton, Acadia and StFX.
Laval stays consistent in RSEQ
The defending RSEQ champion Laval Rouge et Or left the first week of the season with two victories, picking up where they left off in conference play. At the same time, the tendencies flipped in Montreal, with the Carabins dropping a game while the McGill Martlets left the opening round with six points.
Rouge et Or forward Léa-Jeanne Fortier scored a brace in Laval’s home opening 3-1 win over the Sherbrooke Vert et Or as she chases her second straight RSEQ golden boot. While the opponent’s strength wasn’t entirely there for Laval’s victories over Sherbrooke and the UQAM Citadins, they appeared composed through the opening weekend.
McGill also started positively, putting up a 1-0 victory over the UQTR Patriotes and a 3-1 win over the Concordia Stingers. This season, they have appeared more threatening in attack, adding former UNB Red and League 1 BC veteran of Altitude FC, Alexandra Hughes-Goyette as a striker. She found one goal on the weekend and was evident in adding a high press to McGill’s approach.
While Laval will look to continue their run against every opponent, McGill has an early season test in week two, facing the defending U SPORTS champion Montreal Carabins.
CANUCKS AT SCHOOL PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
CANADA WEST: Grace Mwasalla (MacEwan)
OUA: Alena Spehar (McMaster)
RSEQ: Alexandra Hughes-Goyette (McGill)
AUS: Grace Hannaford (Cape Breton)