For the second year in a row, the Victoria Vikes women’s soccer team opened the playoffs with an upset win on the road at the expense of the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades.
On a rainy evening at MRC Sports Complex, the Vikes opened the second half with three consecutive goals, courtesy Lindsay Machin, Rachel Baird and Mia Gunter, to take a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead.
The host Cascades, No. 8 in the U Sports national rankings, tested that conventional wisdom in the last 10 minutes as Amanda Carruthers scored twice to cut the deficit to one. But UFV was unable to find the equalizer, and the Vikes hung on for a 3-2 victory to punch their ticket to the Canada West Select Six next weekend at Trinity Western University.
Saturday’s Pacific Division play-in game marked the fourth time in five years that the Cascades and Vikes had clashed in the first round of the Canada West playoffs. Each of the last three match-ups have seen the visiting team prevail – the Cascades won 3-0 in Victoria in 2014 en route to a conference silver medal and a fourth-place finish at nationals, and the Vikes won on penalty kicks in 2015 in Abbotsford.
“We had some uncharacteristic things happen for us defensively,” Cascades head coach Rob Giesbrecht said afterward. “We gave up a couple set-piece goals which we don’t do, and dug a hole that was quite deep. We tried to get out of it, but it proved too much at the end.”
The two teams were deadlocked after a scoreless first half which saw few clean scoring chances for either side.
The Vikes’ first two goals came in similar fashion – on corner kicks originating to the right of Cascades keeper Kayla Klim. Machin broke the ice in the 50th minute, heading the ball home at the far post off Sarah Douglas’s corner.
In the 62nd minute, Machin once again got on the end of a corner, this one launched by Emily Lieuwen. She nodded the ball forward to Baird, who headed it in to make it 2-0.
Gunter scored in the 74th, controlling a cross at the top of the box and unleashing a strike that took a deflection off a Cascades defender and rolled just inside the left post.
UFV staged a stirring comeback over the final 10 minutes. Carruthers got the hosts on the board in the 80th minute, heading home a Sunayna Samra corner at the far post. The fourth-year forward got another in the 86th, volleying a cross from Brittney Zacharuk.
But that was all the offence the Cascades could muster. It was clear for much of the night that they missed third-year forward Monika Levarsky, who suffered a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL) in last Friday’s 2-2 draw with the Calgary Dinos. Levarsky finished tied for second in Canada West with 10 goals and added six assists.
“She’s a great player, and a sign of a great player is, she makes others around her better,” Giesbrecht noted. “It took us a bit to figure out how we were going to mount attacks and how we were going to press our opponent (without her). Monika can terrorize a back four with her pressing and her work and her desire, and we lacked a bit of that tonight.”
That said, the Cascades showed significant moxie to mount a comeback in the dying minutes.
“We don’t quit,” Giesbrecht asserted. “Throughout the year we’ve lost a couple games, but we’ve fought to the end. We left it on the park tonight, so I’m proud of them. We didn’t play our best game, we didn’t play as sharp as we usually do, we didn’t have the execution that we usually have. But the effort was very good.”