Looking back now, the UNB Varsity Reds women’s soccer team’s 3-2 victory over the Cape Breton Capers on Sept. 13 was a sign of things to come.
After winning their first two games of the season on the road in Newfoundland, the Varsity Reds hit the field at BMO Centre and ended the Capers’ 30 game undefeated streak. Not only was the win a confidence booster, but it also provided evidence that the team was going to contend during the 2014 season – and contend they did.
The women’s soccer program had one of their best seasons ever, finishing the regular season with a 10-1-2 record. They finished first in the Atlantic University Sport standings for the first time in history and finished the year ranked eighth in the country.
The team made it all the way to the AUS final this year but lost 3-1 to the Memorial University of Newfoundland Sea-Hawks. Although they fell short of their goal of winning an AUS championship, all the things the team accomplished this year can’t be overlooked.
The win against Cape Breton, erasing a 2-0 deficit against Mount Alison to clinch first place on Oct. 22 and the team’s hard fought semifinal victory over Acadia were some of the season’s highlights for head coach Jon Crossland. The coach was also especially pleased with the play of certain individuals, including striker Sam Lagacy along with midfielders Kayla Painter and Lucy Parkin.
“Lucy Parkin is really an unsung hero for us in terms of the role she plays in that midfield, always being marked up against the other team’s best players,” said Crossland. “Sometimes she doesn’t necessarily get the spotlight but she allowed us to be as good as we were this year.”
Crossland also said one of the year’s highlights was goalkeeper Sami-Jo Bell making a surprise return from injury to play in the AUS playoffs. Bell, who hadn’t played since suffering a leg injury on Oct. 3 in Moncton, was believed to be out for the season with ACL and MCL damage.
Crossland said that after some after hard work rehabbing and consulting with doctors, Bell was given the green light to play in the AUS semifinal on Nov. 1.
Bell made seven saves in UNB’s 2-1 semifinal victory over Acadia and five saves in the team’s 3-1 loss to MUN in the final.
“Sami-Jo can take the time now to recover over the winter,” said Crossland. “[Backup goalkeeper Rebecca] Duda stepped in and did a very good job – especially for a first year goalkeeper. We felt she would have been fine in the playoffs too but Sami-Jo has a little bit more experience in that setting.”
Duda, in her first season with the Varsity Reds, started every game while Bell was out and performed quite well. Both keepers are expected to return to the team next season, giving UNB a solid tandem in net.
Looking ahead to next year, the team could be losing some key players. Before the final home game of the regular season, the Varsity Reds honoured Lagacy, Lacey Purdy, Hannah Vesterbeak, Erin Bethune, Meggie Spicer, Eden Vanderlaan, Laura McNicholas and Emma Quigley as graduating players.
“There’s potential to graduate eight for sure. We know pretty well that four or five of those girls will not be back. The other three are sorting out their academics; they have some school that they would like to continue on with, so we’ll see. But we know we’re probably not going to get four or five of them back.”
The Varsity Reds now begin off-season training, which includes playing in a league once or twice a week and taking part in a fitness program three times a week.
As for the team’s coaching staff, the next few months will be about signing new players up for next year’s team.
“Recruiting is the big piece right now,” said Crossland.
“It never stops, really. We’ve already got two girls signed on for next year already – a girl from Ontario and a girl from the States. It’s just an ongoing process.”