The U in the 2019 U Sports National Women’s Soccer Championship tournament might well stand for upstarts. Or maybe upsets, as in those created during conference playoffs by those upstarts.
“A few heavyweights — defending national champion University of Ottawa Gee Gees and [Canada West powerhouse] Trinity Western Spartans — have not qualified,” noted University of Victoria Vikes head coach Tracy David.
“So, although teams such as Cape Breton and Montreal have traditionally been at nationals, this championship feels wide open.”
The host Vikes play the feature quarter-final game today at 6:30 p.m. against the Canada West champion University of Calgary Dinos at Centennial Stadium. Both teams might have wanted something different at nationals — an out-of-conference opponent they don’t usually get to play — but that’s the hand of fate in any tournament draw. It, however, negates a bit of UVic’s home-field advantage since the Dinos have played at Centennial Stadium this year.
But home is where the heart is, counter the Vikes.
“We have home field and a comfort zone on our pitch because it is a pitch we know so well,” said David, a former Canada player and member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.
“And we will have our crowd backing us. We need its help and for it to be loud and boisterous in cheering us on.”
Hosts are invariably slapped with the backing-in tagline. But the Vikes are worthy entrants in what can be a wide-ranging category. UVic was a more than credible 8-3-3 in the regular season before making the Canada West playoff quarter-finals. The Vikes handed the Dinos (10-1-3) their lone loss in the regular season, so the Canada West champions from Calgary know they need to be wary and not take anything for granted today in their rematch on the same pitch in the national quarter-final.
The Dinos feature a stringent defence, which allowed only 36 shots on goal during the regular season, enabling ’keeper Lauren Haughton to record eight clean sheets. Calgary became Canada West champion for the first time in 14 years with playoff wins against the Manitoba Bisons in the quarter-finals, MacEwan Griffins in the semifinals and UBC in the final.
“Calgary is a very good, tough team,” said David.
UVic knows falling behind is not an option today because rally opportunities are hard to come by against this Dinos’ defence.
“We have to play safe defensively and not allow any silly little goals from which we have to recover from,” said David.
But timidity has never been a hallmark of David’s UVic teams.
“We also know we have to go for it and attack well,” she said.
The Dinos had their jerseys stolen Monday, along with the car the jersey were in, and are having replacements rushed to the Island for nationals. They are hoping that is the extent of their bad luck this week and that their season reverts to form on several levels.
Doing their best to continue Calgary’s week in disarray tonight will be Vikes defender and second-team Canada West all-star Rachel Baird, a fifth-year Nanaimo product, and UVic forward Nikki Virk of Surrey, who was named to the conference all-rookie team. Fifth-year striker Kiara Kilbey out of Stelly’s Secondary led the Vikes in goals with five and fourth-year Kyra Teetzen from Quesnel in assists with three. Also crucial is Vikes’ fifth-year goalkeeper and Reynolds Roadrunners-graduate Puck Louwes.
“Puck has been outstanding for us this season, as she has in her career,” said David.
“We can always count on Puck. We feel we have a backfield five, of which Puck is a critical aspect.”
Injuries will keep key players Georgia Bignold and Abby Mackenzie out of the UVic lineup. But Vikes veterans such as Baird, Kilbey, Teetzen and Louwes have the experience of placing fifth at national in 2018 to fall back on.
“We’ve shown resiliency this season with a next-player-up attitude,” said David.
The other quarter-final matchups today at Centennial Stadium have Ontario-champion York Lions playing the Atlantic runner-up and wildcard Acadia Axemen at 10:30 a.m.; Quebec-champion Montreal Carabines meeting Canada West runners-up and wildcard UBC Thunderbirds at 1 p.m.; and Atlantic-champion Cape Breton Capers facing the Ontario-finalist Toronto Varsity Blues at 4 p.m.
The consolation semifinals are Friday at 1:30 and 4 p.m. and the championship semifinals Saturday at 12:30 and 3 p.m. The medal round is Sunday with the fifth-place game at 10 a.m., bronze-medal game at 12:30 p.m. and gold-medal match at 3 p.m.