Soccer Hawks national bound

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(Photo by Jody Waardenburg)

OTTAWA, Ont. – “Soccer’s kind of cruel that way.”

Wilfrid Laurier women’s soccer head coach Barry MacLean summed up his team’s journey to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship this past weekend in six simple words.

A cruel weekend in Ottawa that brought forth 240 minutes of playing time in two games, a six-round series of penalty kicks to advance and an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) gold medal slipping out of the grasp of the Golden Hawks in the last six minutes of extra time in the final match.

But the Hawks showed they’re capable of so much more.

“After playing 120 minutes [Saturday] then going through the same thing again [Sunday], the girls show so much character. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” MacLean said following Sunday’s 1-0 gold medal game loss against the No. 1 Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Despite the loss, however, the Hawks still qualified for the CIS nationals this weekend in Victoria, B.C. by defeating the Queen’s Gaels 1-0 on penalty kicks Saturday afternoon in the OUA semi-final.

The first, second and third-placed teams in the OUA gained a ticket to the national championship.

Saturday’s meeting with the Gaels featured an eerily similar encounter to the OUA gold medal game a year ago, when the Hawks sent a ball flying over the crossbar in penalties to give Queen’s the 1-0 win.

The same ball flew over the crossbar Saturday, when Gaels’ player Breanna Burton missed the net in their final shot.

“So happy,” said Laurier netminder Katrina Ward after Saturday’s win. “We really fought through, right to the end of the game. It was hard, there were a couple moments when they got some big rushes but we fought back and played hard all the way to the end.”

Ward put up a stellar performance throughout the weekend; stopping all 12 shots she faced against Queen’s including a crucial stop during penalty kicks, which allowed Laurier to edge the Gaels 5-4.

In the following match against the Gee-Gees, Ward again was crucial in keeping the game scoreless until late in extra time, stopping 17 of 18 shots.

“She came for big things. She made some big saves, she made some one-on-one saves. In the penalties she came up big,” MacLean said.

“Katrina was amazing [Saturday] and [Sunday],” co-captain Kelsey Abbott agreed. “[She] saved us a couple times, came up big. She will be someone that will shine for us for a long time now.”

Although Laurier’s offence was able to generate chances throughout the weekend, the team did not score a single goal, outside of the penalty shootout versus Queen’s, during which first-year Kiara Reyes scored the game winner.

“I had to keep calm and confident. I think you have to be calm going into a penalty kick. Just got to think about that,” Reyes said following her game-winning shot. “I knew where I was going to put it. [Tyrell] was kind of intimidating at the beginning but I knew where I was going.”

Against Queen’s, Laurier midfielder Katie Bishop carried the tempo, which allowed the Hawks to keep the Gaels’ strikers Jackie Tessier and Riley Fillion at bay without a goal. Bishop dictated the flow of the game and gave leeway to opportunities.

The defence also exemplified depth, with Abbott, Kelsey Tikka, Sarah Farano and Jess Carter abstaining many tangible opportunities for Queen’s and Ottawa.

Despite there being 18 shots, the Hawks’ defence helped clear rebounds that could be lethal for Ward.

“They were crucial. Honestly, they shot down some of their biggest strikers, biggest players, girls who have been here for years and years and years. They just shut them right down. I honestly couldn’t do what I do without them,” Ward said. “They take a whole load off my back.”

However, having played the amount of time they had, the Hawks couldn’t find offence in the depths of the Sunday afternoon gold medal match.

“I’m nothing but proud of the team,” Abbott said. “Ottawa is always a tough competitor and they’ve been one of the teams that’s been around for the past four years competing.

“This time it was theirs and we’ll be pushing next time for it to be ours.”

The Hawks have won three OUA medals in as many years, dating back to 2010 when they won the gold medal against Queen’s. Last year, Laurier claimed the silver, also against Queen’s.

Laurier will now stretch their competition nationally, as Victoria becomes the prominent focus for the team.

“We need to wipe this out of our head, give it a night to kind of sink in and then make sure we have our sights set on what we’re going to do at nationals,” Abbott said.

“I’ll let them lick their wounds right now,” MacLean said. “Most of them can hardly feel their legs. We’ll get through that and then we’ll regroup and get ourselves sorted out for Thursday.”

This Thursday, the Hawks will open their next quest for national gold when they battle Trinity Western at 4:30 p.m.

Last year, the Hawks played Trinity Western in the consolation semi-final and lost 1-0.

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