by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips
The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) last gold medaled at a Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Women's Soccer Championships with the MacEwan Griffiths, 2013; Concordia Thunder, 2009 and Lethbridge 1994.
This year at the 2018 CCAA Women's Soccer Championships held in Percy Page Stadium in Coquitlam, British Columbia, the ACAC would be represented by the ACAC Champion NAIT Ooks and ACAC runner-up SAIT Trojans qualifying as a Wildcard team.
NAIT had claimed four silver medals at the CCAA Women's Soccer Championships, striking in the years 2015, 2014, 2011 and 2010.
This would be the Trojans first trip to nationals.
The Ooks entered the four-day eight-team 14-game tournament with a regular season record of 10 wins 59 goals for 3 goals against while the Trojans sported an impressive 12 wins 57 goals for 3 goals against.
Trojans came into the tournament ranked No. 3 in the CCAA polls and despite beating the Trojans for the ACAC crown, the Ooks were ranked No. 5.
Ooks would find a 6th place finish and the Trojans 7th spot.
In a RSEQ (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec) gold medal final the Champlain Saint-Lambert Cavaliers edged the Élans de Garneau 3-2.
Below are game recaps from the CCAA with quotes supplied by the ACAC.
NAIT Ooks 2 Mount Saint Vincent University Mystics 0
Wednesday November 7, 2018 Quarter Final
Game report read: The Ooks dominated possession of the ball in the first half Wednesday, rarely allowing opposition players to foray into the Ooks side of the pitch.
Mystics' goalkeeper Caroline Larocque was outstanding, making 10 stops in the match, but after an onslaught of chances, the Ooks broke through as a cross into the box bounced over the head of a Mystics defender and fell perfectly for an unmarked Kennedy Hennig, who made no mistake from in close.
Just before the halftime whistle, the Ooks doubled their lead as a corner kick was headed through by Hennig for her second goal of the match.
The second half saw a much more aggressive Mystics performance, but the Ooks defenders held firm. Five shots did manage to find their way towards Toni Burse, but the Ooks keeper dealt with all five.
Earning Player of the Game honours were Kennedy Hennig for the NAIT Ooks, and Breagh Laing of the MSVU Mystics.
"It wasn't an exciting game and we did what we needed to do to win ," said Ooks head coach Carol Holt who followed up her ACAC Women's Soccer North Division Coach of the Year with a CCAA Coach of the Year honour at the tournament banquet.
"We were hurt in that Kaily Mohn (ACAC regular season leading scorer with 15 goals) was dealing with an injury (possible anterior cruciate ligament strain) she received from the (ACAC) tournament. We played her a few minutes for the Mount Saint Vincent game to see what she could do.
"Unfortunately she just wasn't fit to play. It was a massive loss not having her up front. We had to adjust things."
SAIT Trojans 0 Fanshawe Falcons 6
Wednesday November 7, 2018 Quarter Final
Ontario Colleges Athletic Association's Fanshawe College Falcons from London, Ontario opened the flood gates with seven goals in this quarter final.
Five of the six goals came from 2018 CCAA Player of the Year Jade Kovacevic, who was unstoppable in the eighteen-yard box for Fanshawe.
Kovacevic was the CCAA's top scorer in 2018 with 30 regular season goals, and showed off her scoring prowess in this match.
The Trojans played quite well on offense, generating several quality chances, but just couldn't keep up with the offensive firepower of the Falcons.
The Players of the Game were Jade Kovacevic for the Falcons, and Maddie Lee of the Trojans.
"I think we were very nervous going in with a lot of rookies on the team (five which start) with zero experience at nationals," admitted Trojans head coach John Talerico. "We were also a little awe of their star player Jade Kovacevic. She showed us why she was the 2018 CCAA Women's Soccer Player of the Year.
"We felt good about certain parts of our game and learned things that we could use as we continued on."
SAIT Trojans 1 Douglas Royals 4
Thursday November 8, 2018 Bronze Quarter Final
The first 15 minutes were evenly matched, with chances at both ends of Percy Perry Stadium. However the Royals, an excellent set-piece team, took the first chance they got at a dead-ball situation. Sam Kell's delivery pinged around in the six-yard box before an incredible back heel from centreback Hannah dela Cruz opened the scoring and gave the 2018 PACWEST All-Star her first goal as a Royal.
The Trojans immediately responded as Jillian Gibbs delivered a beautiful cross into the penalty area, and Mataya Blakney got on the end of it to strike home the equalizer.
The game became cagey and hesitant after the two quick goals, but when the Royals earned another corner, Kell's delivery was headed towards goal by Mikaela Montagano and redirected by Caitlin Danielson to restore the Douglas lead.
Poor Trojan discipline lead to two second-half insurance markers for the Royals, as Sam Kell scored a penalty and then delivered a beautiful free-kick that was headed in by Taylor Wettig. The Royals would go on to win the game 4-1.
Players of the game were SAIT's Rachelle LaBranche and Martina Pettenon of Douglas College.
"It was a weird game. We played really well but we could not stop their corner kicks, which was unusual as we never had issues with that before. I thought we did OK but they scored on a late goal in the first half and that affected us mentally and we could not recover in the second half."
NAIT Ooks 2 Champlain St. Lambert Cavaliers 3
Thursday November 8, 2018 Semi Final
The Champlain St-Lambert Cavaliers let their three-goal lead slip away, but held firm in the final minutes to advance to the 2018 CCAA Women's Soccer final round.
The Cavaliers were the stronger team in the opening minutes, but didn't break through until Yuri Akatsu inadvertently handled the ball in the penalty area, and the resulting spot-kick was converted by Fréderique St-Jean to give Champlain St-Lambert the lead.
The Cavaliers continued to dominate the pace of play, and executed a beautiful give-and-go play between Noémi Paquin and Thalia Krauth-Ibarz, which Paquin finished to double the lead. Just before the halftime whistle, 2018 CCAA All-Canadian Karima Lemire made it three goals for Champlain with a great run from the left hand side, putting herself in position to calmly roll the ball into the goal.
The Ooks flipped a switch in the second half, immediately dominating the play for the entirety of the back 45. Just 5 minutes into the half, they converted a penalty of their own, and continued to press until an incredible free-kick goal from Augustine Gallardo drew the Ooks to within one. With 5 minutes of regulation and 4 minutes of stoppage time, the Ooks threw everything they had towards the Champlain goal, but the Cavaliers stood tall in the final moments to preserve a 3-2 win and advance to the gold medal game.
Player of the Game honours were awarded to the Ooks' Kayleigh Pepper and the Cavaliers' Mathilde Lefebvre Lalande.
"We were in a pickle in the first half and we changed our shape in the second half. For us to look back at the half and say we won that half, against the eventual CCAA champion, speaks well to what we could have done. "
NAIT Ooks 0 Douglas Royals 1 (Penalty Kicks 4-2)
Friday November 9, 2018 Bronze Medal Semi-Final
The first bronze semi-final match saw the ACAC champion NAIT Ooks take on the hosting Douglas College Royals.
The match started out with multiple chances for both the Ooks and Royals, with the hosts nearly scoring just five minutes in. A Douglas free kick was stopped by Toni Burse and the rebound effort was cleared off the line by Yuri Akatsu. Just before the 20-minute mark, a handball in the box gave the Royals a penalty opportunity, but Sam Kell's effort was robbed by Burse.
The Ooks had several attempts at goal in the opening minutes, but a second yellow for Marissa Webb (10 regular season goals) changed the NAIT game plan. Happy to sit back, the Ooks fiercely defended a Royals onslaught for about three quarters of the match, reaching the full-time whistle with a goalless draw and forcing the penalty shootout, where the numerical disadvantage would be nullified.
In the penalty shootout, Sam Kell was the first shooter and scored, while NAIT's first shooter Kayleigh Pepper was stopped by a sprawling Alexa Gazzola. Both Mikaela Montagano and Yumi Ishimura scored in the second round, before Sonali Dholliwar's effort was saved by Burse and Augustine Gallardo converted to level the score at 2. After Mikayla Hamilton scored for Douglas, Yuri Akatsu's penalty was put just wide, and Royals keeper Alexa Gazzola scored the final penalty to win the match and send the hosts to the bronze medal match.
Player of the Game honours went to the two goalkeepers, Toni Burse of NAIT and Alexa Gazzola of Douglas College.
"We didn't have much luck. We received two quick yellow cards about 25 minutes into the game (ACAC All Conference forward Marissa Webb) and so we played majority of the game short a player with only 10. We finished well and lost in penalties. Our first year goalie Toni Burse was outstanding and she is only 17."
SAIT Trojans 2 Mount Saint Vincent College Mystics 0
Saturday November 10, 2018 Placement Match 7th/8th
The Trojans got on the board in the first half as Taylor Zimmer scored her first of the tournament to give SAIT the advantage heading into halftime. 20 minutes into the second half of play, Mataya Blakney doubled the SAIT lead. Blakney had an excellent tournament, as she contributed to so much of the Trojans' incisive forward play. The Mystics had no answer for the relentless Trojans attack, as the game finished 2-0.
Player of the Game honours were awarded to MSVU's Julia Short and Jaime McPherson of SAIT.
"We were super relaxed going into the game. We had no nerves and we played our game. We controlled the game from the get go. I thought we did well.
"In the end we learned a lot, both the coaching staff and players. We have some missing pieces we have to fill in for next year."
NAIT Ooks 0 VIU Mariners 1
Saturday November 10, 2018 Placement Match 5th/6th
In the 5/6 placement game, the VIU Mariners and NAIT Ooks played to a thrilling conclusion, as a late-game goal pushed the PACWEST champs over the ACAC gold medalists.
The game had a cagey start, with both sides reluctant to give the other any opportunities to break through. Chloe Gummer and Shea Battie did get some open looks at goal, but both Mariners put the ball wide of the net. Most chances in the match sailed wide of goal, with both goalkeepers mostly inactive in the first half of play.
The second half saw some more open play as both sides sought to break the deadlock, but most attempts that did get through to Toni Burse and Melanie Osborne were handled without any difficulty. Burse had an excellent tournament; however a deflected shot from Nicole Foglietta in the 87th minute broke the tie.
With the Ooks down a goal, they stepped on the accelerator, but couldn't quite find an equalizer despite a great opportunity from an Augustine Gallardo free-kick, as the Mariners finished in 5th.
Players of the Game were Samantha Weech of NAIT and VIU's Natsu Yayama.
"Without Kaily Mohn and Marissa Webb we were not the same team.
"We are still reflecting on the overall season where we won the provincial championship and had a good regular season and played well at the CCAA tournament."
Of the CCAA Coach of the Year honour, Holt concluded: "It was very humbling experience. Over the last few years at (CCAA Nationals) this was the first year that another team had a woman as a head coach. So it was nice trying to be an ambassador of sort for females in coaching. But it is just not my award but for the players, coaching staff, administrators and other people who have helped along the way."