On the hunt for CIS gold

Photo by Shelby Blackley

Photo by Shelby Blackley

OTTAWA, Ont. — This very well may be the year for Wilfrid Laurier women’s soccer.

They have all the right tools. Striker Emily Brown is in her fifth and final year, now garnished with three provincial silver medals and one gold. Nicole Lyon is healthy and peaking, keeping her composure in high-pressure situations. There’s the quick, swift footwork of Katie Bishop who can control the midfield without a second thought and send a bullet streaking toward the net at any moment. The back four are solid with leadership from Jacky Normandeau and Sarah Farano and quick feet from Julie Karn and Pauline McCordic on the wings. Rookie goalkeeper Ashley Almeida plays like a veteran and doesn’t miss a step for a second.

It’s all there for them.

So on the weekend when Laurier dropped the Ontario University Athletics gold medal match to the Queen’s Gaels, it was, of course, disappointing. But it wasn’t the end, and may have potentially been a wake up call that it will take twice as much — if not more — to come home next week with the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship banner.

“[The OUA final] is done now so we’ll just regroup and worry about what we have to try to accomplish for the next [few] games,” said head coach Barry MacLean.

Laurier finished second in the OUA after upsetting the No. 3 nationally-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees 2-1 in the semifinals. After a 1-0 loss against Queen’s on Sunday, Laurier claimed their fourth medal in five years. Laurier is ranked the eighth seed heading into the CIS championship in Vancouver, British Columbia. They will take on the top seed, the Laval Rouge et Or, in their quarter-final match Thursday afternoon.

Photo by Shelby Blackley

Photo by Shelby Blackley

Joining Laurier, Queen’s and Laval are the Sherbrooke Vert et Or, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, the Trinity Western Spartans, the Cape Breton Capers and the Calgary Dinos. So, what can we expect from this Laurier squad when they’re on a national platform?

“Expectations? Who knows,” MacLean said. “There are going to be eight teams and every one of them is going to be quality. Six of them have a chance to win the thing. We hope we’re one of them and we hope we have a little bit of luck and some good performances and see what happens.”

Some good performances will be crucial. Laurier has depth that can walk off the bench during the game at any point — the crafty Maxine Murchie was a huge contributor to Laurier’s come-from-behind victory when she came into the game in the 55th minute against the Gee-Gees and was a catalyst in the last-minute push in the final. This was also the first time Laurier scored in the Final Four tournament since Brown scored in the semifinal match against Ottawa in 2011. This could be considered a good sign — the Hawks are finding offence at critical times, but need to find more if they are going to be successful on the national stage.

And what’s most important is that Laurier continues to believe they can do it. Against Ottawa, the Hawks trailed 1-0 after a goal in the 68th minute but never panicked. In the 83rd minute they tied it up off an own goal and scored the game winner in injury time off a hectic corner kick. Against Queen’s, despite a valiant effort to tie the game, that same belief wasn’t fully there. Chances were taken, but the hope began to dwindle.

“I think that’s why we were so successful, because we never got down and it made us work even harder,” said Lyon.

“To get the girls to believe, ‘let’s keep pushing, let’s think deep, put everything on the line,’ it was a great feeling,” Almeida echoed.

And it’ll be important for them to continue to believe as they take on the top-seeded Rouge et Or Thursday in unfamiliar territory at 11 a.m., pacific time, 2 p.m., eastern.

“It’s going to be all heart,” Lyon said.

Photo by Shelby Blackley

Photo by Shelby Blackley

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