KINGSTON, ON – When Amanda Smith stepped up to the award podium on Wednesday night to accept the U SPORTS Coach of the Year Award for absent head coach Graham Kennedy, it marked another step in a historic season, even though the StFX X-Women fell to the Montreal Carabins in the national championship quarterfinal.
After going 12-0-0 through the AUS regular season and a perfect 2-0 through the AUS Championship playoffs, the X-Women fell to their first loss of the season on Thursday, surrendering an early goal and a set-piece to Montreal.
Yet, for Smith, a senior, the loss was just another step in developing the StFX women’s soccer program, as was accepting the award at the U SPORTS banquet the previous night.
“Graham came up with a crazy idea about how we were going to play this year and we just kind of went from there and bought into it,” Smith said post-match. “I’m proud of him. He did a crazy job this year, and he’s done it every year I’ve been here. It’s nice that he got the recognition this year, and I went up there to get it.”
Against Montreal, the X-Women faced their toughest test of the season and appeared shaken in the early moments. Montreal opened the scoring 24 seconds into the match as Leonie Portelance aggressively pressed the StFX centrebacks before stealing the ball from Caitlin Crichton and slotting it past Christina Gentile.
Although StFX has faced tough teams in the AUS, notably the Cape Breton Capers, no AUS side was as tactically sound as the challenge the X-Women faced against the Carabins on Thursday morning.
Still, the X-Women settled into the match at the 32nd minute, finding their way through Montreal’s high block for the first time while working the ball up wide areas. Emma Steen, a wingback, cut the ball inside for a shot, which ricocheted off the post for an offside Smith in the X-Women’s first genuine attacking spell.
“Obviously going down 1-0 in the first minute at the national tournament isn’t ideal, and it’s not how we wanted to start, but I thought we stuck to our game plan and didn’t stray from that,” Smith added.
“We didn’t get the result, but even myself, I learned today that there’s a whole other intensity that you can bring to a soccer game, I think Montreal gave us a great game being physical and aggressive.”
Montreal continued to attack throughout the second half, but StFX could not carry the momentum and positive play, they had to end the first into the second portion of the game. With StFX’s only opportunities coming on counter-attacks, it proved no issue for Montreal defenders Santy Malanda, Kaylanne Hogue and Maude Legace.
The Carabins added a second goal in the 72rd minute, as Erika Bastien rose to a inswinging corner kick, heading it past Chrtiction to all but seal the victory.
Growing from the loss ahead of Smith’s final spell
However, despite tears from many of the StFX players after the match, Smith held strong, and composed as a veteran on the team, knowing what the moment means to the future of the X-Women’s programs. Particularly, for young players like Cheeyenne Bower, who proved impactful beyond their years as rookies in the program.
“I think a lot of the young players have learned that you need to stick by your teammates, and stick to what you know while also being confident,” Smith said. “You can already see it now on the pitch and in the changeroom, just how smart these players are and it’s going be great to see them grow even more and hopefully fight for more U SPORTS Championship appearances.”
While Christina Gentile’s seven saves weren’t enough to keep a clean sheet, the X-Women showed well against one of the best teams in U SPORTS, and will have an opportunity to develop further in a consolation semifinal against one of either UBC or Ottawa, who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all season.
With the victory, the Carabins advanced to the U SPORTS semifinal, taking on the winner of the UBC-Ottawa match, in a game that will feature several potential pro talents.
“We want to stick with what we know moving forward, everyone kind of knows their roles at this point,” Smith said of the consolation semifinal, her potential last game with StFX. “I think it’s kind of pushing for these moments, and really getting into it. Be intense with it, but also have fun.”