Hawks fall early at nationals

(Photo by Armando Tura)

VICTORIA, B.C — Defender Kelsey Abbott led the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks off the field last Friday afternoon after their 1-0 defeat to the hands of the Sherbrooke Vert et Or.

With tears falling down her face, as well as her teammates’, the reality hit the Hawks — this was their last game as the 2012 installment of the women’s soccer team.

“It’s a tough one,” said head coach Barry MacLean. “I think, for the girls that were in their fifth year this was their last kick at it and it’s going to be a little bit of a downer for them.”

For Abbott, Krista Cellucci, Jess Carter and Erin Grand, it was their last chance at national gold.

And the results merely left a tainted heart.

As finalists of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference, the Hawks played the Canada West winners, the Trinity Western Spartans in the quarterfinal of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship Thursday afternoon.

But despite their efforts, the Hawks just couldn’t find the result they needed. Unable to complete the comeback, the Hawks were eliminated from gold medal contention 2-1 against the Spartans.

“For me, Trinity Western was by far the best team we’ve played all season,” MacLean said. “They can hurt you from every position on the field, they’re very athletic and every player that came off the bench was as good as the one’s that started.”

“I’m so proud of everybody on the field. We gave it all we’ve got. We have nothing to be upset about,” said third-year defender Kelsey Tikka following the loss.

The Hawks were outmatched against the Spartans, as the team from the west was an offensive threat from the opening kick. Their physicality became an evident problem and the Spartans held a balanced structure at every position on the field.

However, Laurier never lost momentum, as they battled back from a 2-0 deficit after third-year Amanda Mithrush found the back of the net late in the second half.

“The moment the ball went into the net I just felt everyone’s spirits pick up,” Tikka said.

“We knew we had a chance from there and we knew we had to dig deep and there was a chance we were actually going to come back from that.”

But despite the encouraging performance in Thursday’s quarterfinal, that would be as much as was generated for the tournament.

Friday’s consolation semi-final against the Vert et Or featured nothing positive from the Hawks, but rather multiple turnovers and few critical chances.

“I thought they played poorly,” MacLean said of his team’s performance in the consolation semi-final. “I didn’t think they competed well. I don’t know if it was layover from the game yesterday, but in the first 55 minutes until we got scored on, I don’t think we competed and I think there weren’t enough players that played with the intensity and character that they needed to.”

The Vert et Or, who were defeated by the host Victoria Vikes in the quarterfinal 2-1, dominated the second half of the game, planting an easy goal past Laurier netminder Katrina Ward.

This would be as much as was needed for Laurier to be eliminated from the tournament entirely.

According to MacLean, Laurier’s young group was unable to adjust to the level of play required at the national level. With a very young group of starters, the Hawks couldn’t maintain a high level of intensity.

“I mean, the game against Trinity Western was an eye opener for some of them for the level that we’re playing at and today I think they learned that if you don’t come in and compete from the beginning of the match, you’re going to lose regardless of who the opposition may be,” said MacLean.

The highlight of the playoffs for Laurier came from the back of the field, where Ward exemplified the improvement she’s made throughout the year. On multiple occasions, the third-year goaltender made big saves that kept the Hawks within reach of their opponents.

“Kat Ward did very, very well and she’s improved on where she’s come from over the course of the season,” MacLean said. “[She] is phenomenal. Unfortunately, we left her to do too much today.”

Tikka agreed that her teammate was a game-changing character throughout the season.

“Katrina, she’s been amazing for us all season ever since she stepped in,” she said. “She’s come out big for us. There were four or five breakaways today that she stopped that could have been big game changers for us. We really owe everything to her for this.”

Despite the disappointing end to this season, MacLean has high hopes for the upcoming years as the Hawks will only lose four members of their team to graduation.

“We’re going to be very strong next year,” he said. “We’ve got Cass Mensah coming back from injury, we’ve got some great recruits coming in and the younger girls have had a great experience coming here.”

In the gold medal game of the tournament, the Spartans walked away with the gold medal after defeating the Queen’s Gaels 1-0 on penalty kicks. The host Vikes defeated the OUA champion Ottawa Gee-Gees to claim the bronze 1-0, also on penalty kicks

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