Post-season will offer one final shot at winning Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference
The Mount Royal University Cougars women's soccer team pulled off a decisive win on Oct. 23, beating the Lethbridge College Kodiaks 2-0. The victory secured the Cougars top spot in the south division of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC), an achievement that designates them as hosts for the Oct. 28-30 playoff tournament.
The upcoming tournament offers the Cougars one final chance to win the ACAC provincial title, as next year the team will advance to compete in Canada West, a league comprised of university teams.
Home Field Advantage
Last weekend's win means the Cougars will get to face opponents on their home field, and captain Janelle Carbert believes home field advantage could help the team achieve success.
"This win secures us a first-place spot and we get a by going into provincials, which is nice because that means we're automatically in the semi-finals," said Carbert. "More importantly we get to host so we get to sleep in our own beds, eat our own food and stick to our routines. We get to play on our own fields with our own fans."
Carbert also believes the size of the Cougars' home field in combination with their strong fitness level could give her team a technical advantage.
"We concentrate on fitness a lot at practice so we're used to playing for long periods of time," said Carbert, who added, "I think a lot of teams are taken aback by the size of our field and they're not used to it, but we are."
"Some of their fields are little sandboxes so they're just not used to playing on fields like ours."
A Crucial Win
A focus on fitness allows the Cougars to play a fast-paced game, and their quick and efficient ball distribution was evident in last weekend's match against the Kodiaks.
The Cougars took an early lead when forward Karlee Hodl calmly tipped the ball past the Kodiaks' keeper at the 13-minute mark. Crisp passing allowed the Cougars to dominate possesion for most of the first-half, and an aggressive effort from the back line kept the Kodiaks' offence at bay.
While the Cougars were unable to capitalize on many of the scoring opportunities they generated in the first half, they eventually cushioned their lead with a goal from Lesley Oosterhoof. Working with little time and space inside the 18-yard box, Oosterhoof scored her fourth of the season by sniping a hard and fast shot into the top left corner of the net at the 29-minute mark.
With a display of quick one-touch passing in the midfield, the Kodiaks appeared to be gaining momentum early in the second-half, but the Cougars were quick to respond. Battling hard for the first touch on loose balls, the Cougars regained control of the game. The scoreless second half was played mainly in the Kodiaks' end, with shot after shot either whizzing just wide of the Lehtbridge net, or being blocked by the Kodiaks' keeper.
Cougars head coach Tino Fusco said he was not particularly pleased with the overall performance of the team last Sunday, but added that he asked his team to score early and in that respect the team was successful. With the regular season behind him, Fusco is looking forward, highligting the importance of focus in post season play.
"For the playoffs we need to be focused. The records now don't matter, it comes down to one game and day at a time, and we really need to perform on that day," says Fusco.
A Score to Settle
Also looking forward to playoffs is first-year Cougar Kelsey Kinzner, who says the team is likely to face the Northern Alberta Instititute of Technology (NAIT) Ooks in the championship game if her team wins in the semi-finals. NAIT boasts a perfect regular season record of 10-0-0, and is coming into the post-season on top of the ACAC north division.
"I'm looking forward to playing against NAIT hopefully. We lost to them in our pre-season tournament and I really would like some retribution there," Kinzer said. "They're our main competition and I think it would be a good game for us. We have lots of skill here and I think they have a fair amount of skill as well."
Cougars captain Carbert is all too familiar with defeat at the hands of NAIT. In the 2010 post-season, the Ooks defeated the Cougars, taking the lead with a goal in the last minute of the semi-final match. The crushing loss meant that the Cougars had no chance to play for ACAC gold, but the team went on to win bronze in the tournament.
For Carbert however, bronze was not good enough. The captain holds her team to a high standard, and believes that an ACAC title would be a great way to end the Cougars' participation in the league.
"This is our last chance and we want to prove that we deserve to be moving up," said Carbert. "It's our last year in ACAC, so it would be nice to go out with a bang."
The winner of this weekend's ACAC provincial tournament at MRU will play for the national CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association) title at Collège François-Xavier-Garneau in Québec in November.
- By Krystal Northey