Hawks advance to sixth OUA championship in nine years
OTTAWA, Ont. — It was 6 a.m., Saturday morning and Nicole Lyon couldn’t sleep.
The second-year Wilfrid Laurier women’s soccer all-star was too excited — and nervous — for the upcoming Ontario University Athletics semifinal against the No. 3 nationally-ranked and first-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees to sleep. She went for a walk to the parliament buildings before coming back in time for breakfast and a team meeting.
And just over eight hours later, Lyon scored the game-winning goal in the 94th minute off a corner kick to help lift the Hawks to a 2-1 victory.
Laurier now advances to the OUA championship for the fifth time in the last six years and qualify for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship next week in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“It’s so surreal. It’s redemption for last year,” Lyon said, referring to the fourth-place finish for the Hawks at last year’s OUA championship.
“The fact that it dropped to Nicole who has been outstanding all season, [it] probably couldn’t have found a better player to go to because of her composure in those situations and she finished it very well,” said head coach Barry MacLean.
“I thought everybody, right across the field played extremely well … All of our players fought from the beginning until the end and I really do believe we were deserving winners of the game.”
Laurier controlled possession in the first half, but only amounted to five shots as opposed to Ottawa’s eight. In the 35th minute, first-year rookie goalkeeper Ashley Almeida made an incredible save on all-star Julia Francki and a subsequent save on OUA East player of the year Pilar Khoury to keep the game deadlocked.
In the second, the Hawks continued to dominate possession, but could not amount any shots to a goal. In the 58th minute, Julie Karn was called for a foul that resulted in a yellow card and Ottawa was awarded a free kick near the 10-yard line in Laurier’s end. After a flurry of chances, Ottawa’s Faythe Lou beat Almeida to put Ottawa ahead 1-0.
But Laurier never stopped believing. They sent 12 shots at star goalkeeper Cynthia Leblanc in the second half. In the 68th minute, Laurier nearly drew even when Abbey Zamec sent a bullet at the net, but caught all crossbar.
In the 83rd minute, Katie Bishop brought the ball down to about the 10-yard line when she tried to cross the ball into the box, but it deflected off Ottawa defender Hannah Landry’s foot and into the corner.
The Hawks kept pressuring for the second goal with full support from the defence. Almeida made another incredible save on Khoury in stoppage time to keep the Hawks afloat and give them another opportunity for the winner.
With the game in injury time and seconds before extra time, Laurier was awarded a corner kick in the 94th minute. MacLean played on a gamble and pushed everyone into the box to add pressure to Leblanc and the Gee-Gees. The ball ended up in a flurry of people. Fifth-year striker Emily Brown tried to get a shot off, but it deflected right to Lyon’s foot. Lyon turned and sent it into the corner, securing Laurier’s ticket to the finals.
“I think in the last five minutes of the game, they were trying to hang on and we were pushing the game. All of our players were trying to win it, they were trying not to lose and I think that was a big factor,” MacLean said.
Lyon, a first-team all-star in the OUA and the entire Hawk squad will play for the gold medal on Sunday against the Queen’s Gaels, who defeated the No. 2 nationally-ranked York Lions 1-1 (7-6 in penalty kicks). This will be the seventh time in nine straight appearances at the OUA Final Four that Laurier will finish with a medal.
The goals also ended a scoring drought for the Hawks. It was the first time since the 2011 OUA semifinal match against Ottawa that Laurier scored in the OUA Final Four tournament.
“We celebrate a little bit, but we’ve still got to keep focused. They upset York, which is huge, so we can’t take them for granted,” said Lyon. “Whoever wants it more. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or second, we’re all good teams. Whoever wants it more is going to win.”
Game time is 2 p.m., at Marc Anthony Field and on OUA.tv.