Vikes earn bronze medal on home turf

Sports | Lifestyle

From the time training camp kicked off in August, the Vikes women’s soccer team’s goal was to raise the CIS Championship banner in front of their home crowd at Centennial Stadium in November. While they came just short of this goal, the Vikes were able to make UVic proud by having a stellar season, capped off with victory in the national bronze medal game to finish third in the country.

From the first game of the season, it was clear the Vikes were ready to live up to the pressure of hosting nationals. The team stormed out of the gate, winning six out of their first seven games, while tying the other. The Vikes goal differential throughout their 6-0-1 start to the season was staggering: 42 goals for with a mere two goals against, a plus-40 margin.

Second-year forward Emma Greig was a major reason for the team’s offensive outburst. In those first seven games, she scored 11 goals to go along with three assists. Greig would finish the regular season with a massive 14 goals in 12 games played to lead the entire Canada West conference in goals scored.

After going 3-1-0 in their next four games, the Vikes entered the season finale against rival Trinity Western Spartans with first place in the regular season on the line. Possession was the name of the game, with few quality chances either way. The game came down to two penalty kicks in the second half, one unsuccessful by Vikes midfielder Lindsay Hoetzel, and one successful by Spartans midfielder Natalie Boyd. Trinity would hold on to win the game 1–0.

The Vikes finished the regular season 9-2-1, scoring 47 goals for while allowing just six against, including zero in first-half play. Third-year defender Mallory Hackett explained what the team was doing to shut down the opposition.

“Working together as a defensive unit, we practice every single day on it, just keeping our shape, high pressure on the ball . . . and we’ve got [Vikes goalie Stephanie] Parker behind us, who’s an amazing goalkeeper.”

UVic’s second-place regular season finish earned them a home playoff game. The girls took full advantage of the home field, cruising past the Fraser Valley Cascades 3–0. This set up a semi-final match with the UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver. The two teams were unable to score in the 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of overtime. They turned on the scoring in the shootout, however, each team connecting on its first eight kicks. The Vikes were finally able to pull out this marathon game thanks to a goal by defender Bijou Leavins and saves by Parker.

The Canada West final set the Vikes up with another chance to take down Trinity Western. The game had every semblance of a rivalry match with its highly physical play. The teams received a combined total of 29 fouls; UVic received two yellow cards, while Trinity received three yellows. Spartans midfielder Vanessa Kovacs earned a red for a vicious tackle on Greig, while Vikes head coach Tracy David was ejected for yelling at an official over what she saw as a missed call. There was some scoring in the middle of the rough play, as Trinity managed to open up a 2–0 lead and hold off the Vikes, winning 2–1 to give the Spartans the Canada West title.

The Vikes were disappointed, but ready to move on to the challenge of nationals. A cold Nov. 8 night was the stage for the Vikes’ first game against the Sherbrooke Vert & Or, champions of the Quebec league (RSEQ). Playing in front of their largest crowd of the year, UVic opened up an early lead off a goal from midfielder Jacqueline Harrison. An early second-half goal from midfielder Tessa Margetts would be all the insurance the Vikes needed, as they held on to down Sherbrooke 2–1.

Vikes midfielder Carlita Branion-Calles credited the crowd with helping to spur the team on. “Everyone was cheerin’ on. It was great to have the crowd behind us . . . it gave us some inspiration when we needed it.”

Fellow midfielder Jaclyn Sawicki explained how the team was able to shut down Sherbrooke despite a second-half push. “Our goal was to stay tight in the midfield once we marked up . . . That really helped out, and we managed the game more.”

The Vikes reached the national semifinals on Nov. 9, where for a third time they faced their bitter rival, Trinity. Chances were at a premium throughout the physical game. Despite UVic playing their best defensively against Trinity, it was once again Natalie Boyd who would dash the Vikes’ dreams, capitalizing on a first-half header during a rare defensive breakdown amongst the Vikes. It turned out to be all the Spartans needed. Trinity beat UVic for the third time this season to reach the national finals.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Vikes resolved to end the season on a high note. In the bronze-medal game on Remembrance Day, UVic clashed with the Ottawa Gee-Gees. After playing to a scoreless draw through regulation, the teams went straight to a shootout. The Vikes once again showed off their shootout skills, converting all four kicks to win the shootout 4-1, and claimed the bronze medal and third place in the country.

Greig set the tone early, rocketing the first penalty kick home. “I felt pretty confident [going into the shot]. We had practised penalty kicks a lot this year as you can see, ‘cause we all made ours.” Greig was happy about the win. “We came a long way . . . to get third in the country feels pretty good.”

For senior Nathalie Scharf, the win means she will end her Vikes career on a high note. “It was really exciting. It’s the first time I’ve come this far. For the team, it’s been a while since we’ve done this well at nationals . . . to do it at home in front of fans and family — it felt awesome.”

The bronze medal win was the Vikes’ best finish since 2005, and leaves Victoria with much to look forward to next season from one of the top teams in the country.