Queen’s Gaels flying among three OUA midseason takeaways

TORONTO, ON – The Thanksgiving Weekend typically marks the halfway point of the U SPORTS OUA women’s soccer season. Most teams have played between six and nine games, meaning they’re finding their rhythm and best eleven’s ahead of the playoff push. As a reminder, the top six teams in each division make the playoffs, while the top two get byes to the quarter-finals. 

In case you haven’t been following along, here are three takeaways from the first half of the season.

Veteran-heavy McMaster leads the West, Guelph and Western ride 5-win streaks

Perhaps one of the surprises of the season so far is the McMaster Marauders’ run to the top of the West division. First-year head coach Garrett Peters has relied on more than 19 players who are in their third year or older as he adjusted to the challenge of coaching the OUA. The defense built around centrebacks Briana Caldwell and Sarina Vogel, and goalkeeper Ali Mudie has been particularly reliable, picking up five clean sheets. 

On the offensive front Alena Spehar has been the breakout player of the season with 11 goals and an assist seeing her tied for first in scoring in the OUA. Even more impressive, considering she only had six appearances throughout her first three seasons. Third-year midfielder Jade Abreo has been providing service (five assists), especially on set-pieces which have been one of the team’s strengths.

READ MORE | How the McMaster Marauders have reached the top of the OUA West

Western and Guelph are hoping to knock the Marauders from the top spot and have one and two games in hand, respectively. No. 9 ranked Western has been typically strong, collecting six wins, a tie, and only losing once (on the road to Windsor). They have scored by committee with eight different goalscorers and have kept six clean sheets. Similarly, Guelph is also riding a five-game win streak and hasn’t lost for over a month. More So than in years past, the Gryphons have been able to grind out late wins thanks to players like recent OUA Player of the Week Christina Gomes (3G, 1), and 1st-year goalkeeper Sabrina Spano (0.5 Goals-Against-Average).

Undefeated Gaels go eight points clear of Nipissing and Ottawa

It wasn’t clear how the Queen’s Gaels would fare this season after losing a few key players after the 2022 season, however, the Gaels have put all those doubts to bed. With nearly four goals scored per game (34 total), only one goal conceded, and blowout wins against the likes of U of T and Carleton, they are poised to make a deep run to the OUA Championships hosted in Kingston in November. 

(Queen’s Gaels Athletics)

They’re now eight points clear of the competition with three winnable games on their schedule. While established players like Seema Sakran (7G, 2A) and Mattie Strickler (6G, 4A) have certainly stepped up to the plate, rookie Leda Naihin has been the breakout player of the OUA East. With seven goals and two assists, each goal-contribution seemingly nicer than the last, the Markham, ON native has put the league on notice and is a clear Rookie of the Year candidate.

With three games in hand, the uOttawa Gee-Gees can still catch the Gaels both in the quest for first place in the East division and in the U SPORTS rankings. A hard-fought 0-0 draw with Queen’s was the only time Ottawa dropped points. 

READ MORE | Cassandra Provost finding her goalscoring touch again

They boast an astounding goals-for-average of 4.67 goals per game and have only conceded four times. Last year’s U SPORTS and OUA Player of the Year Cassandra Provost is once again lighting up the league with 11 goals and 1 assist. The Gee-Gees also have to catch the Lakers, as Nipissing is currently in second place thanks to a solid 5-1-2 record. Juniors Cassidy Brooks, Jennifer Milligan, and Jessica Emmerton form a dangerous offensive trio, scoring 19 of the Lakers’ 25 goals. Veteran defender Rylee Traicoff has also impressed, earning a call-up to the Guyanese National Team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup Qualifiers in September. 

York and Toronto, usual contenders struggling

Only two wins, one point-per-game, and a goals-against tally in the double digits, the season has not gone as expected for two typical powerhouses – the York Lions and Toronto Varsity Blues. 

(McMaster Athletics)

Both programs haven’t been able to adequately replace graduated players, and both started off the season with tough results and haven’t been able to turn it around. With three and four games left, respectively, the path to the playoffs for the Lions and the Varsity Blues will be tough, but not impossible if they can just hold on. 

Sixth-placed York takes on Guelph next and plays seventh-placed Brock twice to end the season. This may be complicated by the fact that they’ll be missing their head coach, Carmine Isacco, who will be joining the Canadian Men’s National Team coaching staff in their upcoming game in Japan. 

Toronto, meanwhile, faces seventh-placed Laurentian at home, before heading up North a week later to play Nipissing and Laurentian. They finish the season against last-placed RMC. While it may not be the way they wanted to make the playoffs, these two legacy programs could still have a shot at the OUA title. 

Meanwhile, Windsor, Laurier, Carleton, and Ontario Tech are profiting from the Toronto team’s poor results, as they all sit comfortably in playoff spots with 3-5 point buffers. With all to play for in the second half of the season stay tuned to 49 Sports to stay up to date on all things U SPORTS OUA women’s soccer.

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