The Trinity Western Spartans needed 11th-hour heroics in the nation’s capital the day before just to book safe passage to Sunday’s 2018 U Sports national women’s soccer championship final game.
Yet in sharp contrast, when the Remembrance Day title tilt kicked off against the host Gee-Gees on the campus of the University of Ottawa, Langley’s Spartans looked like a team ready to take care of business early.
Yet after coming away scoreless despite a flurry of chances which included a near-miss off a free kick, and a pair of goal-line clearances off back-to-back corner kicks before the game was even seven minutes old, you might have come to the same conclusion that Spartans’ head coach Graham Roxburgh did after his team dropped a 2-1 decision to Ottawa.
“Soccer is a funny game,” acknowledged the learned Roxburgh, whose program was not only playing in its eighth straight national tournament, but making its fifth championship game appearance in the last seven years.
“Today we started so well, we had four or five chances, and they cleared two off the line off corners,” he continued. “We probably rue the fact that we didn’t score early and then we gave up an unfortunate (goal).”
From the edge of the 18-yard box, in the 19th minute, a shot by Gee-Gees’ third-year forward Mikayla Morton seemed to handcuff Spartans’ fifth-year keeper Rachel Sydor, who had gone to her knees but had the ball squib between her legs.
“Rachel has been great all year for us, and if she hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been in the gold medal game,” added Roxburgh. “And besides, we did come back and score a wonderful goal.”
Ten minutes after going down 1-0, the Spartans equalized when Harvey’s diagonal crossing pass found the freshly-minted U Sports Player of the Year Seina Kashima in perfect stride to blast a rising rocket from 20 yards past Ottawa keeper Margot Shore and into the top right-corner of the cage.
From that moment to the break, and through roughly the first 20 minutes of the second half, Trinity Western became the team dictating the terms of play and looking like it might be ready to win its first Gladys Bean Memorial national title trophy since 2013, and the program’s sixth since winning its school’s first-ever overall U Sports national title in 2004.
Alas, from the Spartans’ perspective, that’s when Ottawa scored a highlight-reel goal, the kind worthy of giving the Gee-Gees their second-ever national women’s soccer crown and its first since 1996.
In the 64th- minute, fifth-year Ottawa native Miranda Smith, playing the final game of her university career in her hometown, scored the fairy-tale tally when she unleashed a missile-like blast from 28 yards out that had little to no chance of being stopped.
“We were in ascendancy until they scored that goal, and after that we lost out way a bit,” said Roxburgh as the Gee-Gees midfield clamped down another notch and took away the Spartans ability to manufacture space and time the rest of the way. “They had a wonderful strike, and credit to them. It was a dagger.We knew she could hit from distance but it was no one’s fault. She just hit a great one. After that we just couldn’t break them down.”
The game was the final university contests for Spartans’ seniors Amy Gartke, Kat Chin, Danae Derksen, Leanne Verhoeff, Sydor, Kiersten Sawchuk and Kashima.
And the latter’s swan song day on the park was among the most gutsy in the history of TWU Spartans’ athletics.
Kashima, the Burnaby South grad, had tweaked her right hamstring just prior to the start of the Canada West playoffs, and it became aggravated enough that she basically hadn’t played for two weeks heading into nationals. On Sunday, it was impossible not to notice the extent of the bandage and the way she laboured through her pain on a frigid November in eastern Canada.
“Seina is a special player,” began Roxburgh of the midfielder who can both facilitate and score with flair and who, over the course of her final Canada West regular season, became the conference’s all-time assists leader.
“She caused (Ottawa) some problems today, but we couldn’t get her the ball at the right times.”
Truth be told, if the stakes on Sunday weren’t so high, Kashima would likely not have played, her hamstring very likely operating at less than 50 per cent capacity.
“Each group is different and this has been a really great group,” Roxburgh said of his seniors who joined the program the season after the Spartans had won back-to-back national titles in 2012 and 2013.
In total, they played in four national Final Fours and three national finals, the latter encompassing title-game losses to Laval, UBC and Ottawa, all of whom were tourney hosts.
“I’m hurting for them because they have been close five times,” Roxburgh added. “Soccer is a funny game, a game of inches and today there just weren’t enough inches on our side.”
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