Soccer Hawks head for CIS semifinal

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Hawks’ rookie Kelsey Tikka doesn’t seem to be fazed by anything.

The first-year defender stepped right into the Laurier women’s soccer team’s starting lineup this season and consistently shut-down opponents top strikers. She then carried that consistency into the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) post-season, playing a key role in nullifying Jaqueline Tessier and Kelli Chamberlain of Queen’s — the OUA’s two leading scorers — in the Hawks’ 1-0 provincial final win.

All that success culminated in Tikka being named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) rookie of the year on Wednesday night. Then just one night later, the Thunder Bay native would once again be a defensive stalwart on an even bigger stage in Laurier’s 1-0 win over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds to open their national championship tournament on Thursday night.

“She’s amazing,” said Laurier head coach Barry MacLean of his first-year star. “End of story. She’s amazing.”

However, despite her personal accolades, Tikka remains modest, crediting her teammates more than herself.

“We’re a family,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without the team, I had great coaches, great leaders, just a great group of girls leading me to get [the awards].”

With Tikka and her fellow defenders Sadie Anderson, Jessica Carter and Nicole Currie keeping the UBC attack at bay in Thursday’s game, the Hawks controlled the play for the majority of the first half, taking a 0-0 draw into halftime.

Then in the 65th minute, Carter — Tikka’s partner in the centre of the Hawks’ back line — would break the deadlock, picking quite an opportune time for the first goal of her Laurier career.

Off a scrambled Alyssa Lagonia corner, UBC goalkeeper Meghan Best would fumble with the ball and Carter would be there to direct it over the line.

“In practice it happened too but it didn’t quite go as well,” laughed Carter when asked about getting involved on corner kicks. “I’m just happy that this time it worked out in my favour.”

The win over UBC advances the Hawks to Saturday’s national semifinal where they will meet Quebec’s provincial champions, the Montreal Carabins who took down the host University of Prince Edward Island Panthers 2-1 in extra time on Thursday night.

With the two-time defending CIS champions from Trinity Western University getting eliminated in the Canada West Conference playoffs, the Hawks have to be considered a favourite to come away with the title. MacLean however isn’t concerned with who’s absent from the tournament.

“We’re just going to deal with who is here,” he said. “Regardless of who’s here we’re looking to win the championship, it doesn’t matter who’s not here.”

According to Tikka — who wasn’t the only Hawk honoured by the CIS as Lagonia along with midfielder Tania Pedron and forward Ali McKee were named All-Canadians — the Hawks’ key to success is simple.

“We just have to keep playing how we’re playing,” she said. “Go in strong in every battle, every tackle, just give it all we’ve got.”