The University of the Fraser Valley women’s soccer team kicks off its playoff run on the road this weekend, but they’re staying relatively local.
The Cascades, coming off a regular season which saw them place fifth in the Pacific Division at 4-6-4, are part of a Canada West playoff quadrant hosted in Langley, B.C. by Trinity Western University. UFV takes on the Prairie Division No. 4 seed Lethbridge Pronghorns (5-7-2) in a first-round game on Thursday at 7 p.m. at TWU’s Chase Office Field, with the winner advancing to face the host Spartans (10-3-1, Pacific Division No. 1) in the conference quarter-finals at 5 p.m. Saturday. The winner of that game, in turn, punches its ticket to the Final Four.
The Cascades and Pronghorns have faced off once this season, with UFV dropping a 5-0 decision in Lethbridge on Sept. 16. Head coach Rob Giesbrecht’s squad is healthier at this juncture than they were for the first match-up with the Pronghorns, but the Cascades will need a much tidier performance.
“Lethbridge were fantastic against us,” Giesbrecht recalled. “They worked really hard, they’re organized, and they have some dangerous weapons going forward. We have to do a better job containing their attacking players, and we have to find ways to outwork them. We come in as the lower-seeded team, and we’re going to have to play the game to our strengths.”
Veteran players tend to come up big at playoff time, and the Cascades will be looking to the likes of fifth-year forward Amanda Carruthers (a team-best four goals and two assists during the regular season) and third-years Gurneet Dhaliwal (three goals) and Brittney Zacharuk (two goals, one assist) for offensive production. At the other end of the pitch, fifth-year goalkeeper Emily Harold has had a very solid campaign (four shutouts), and right back Kelsey Mitchell has had a breakthrough season, starting all 14 games as a sophomore.
Players to watch for the Pronghorns include Kayla Blacquiere and Lindsay Amatto – they tied for team-high scoring honours with five goals apiece this season, and each scored twice against UFV. Midfielder Nikki Furukawa (four goals, two assists) is also a key offensive catalyst for Lethbridge, and keeper Micaela Stone started all 14 games, posting four shutouts.
“I think to be successful in the playoffs, you have to limit your mistakes and take your chances when they come,” Giesbrecht said. “The focus is on being tidier than we have been. The season has been full of ups and downs, and we’ve faced adversity. Now we’re in a knockout tournament where it’s do or die, and you take it game by game and lay it on the line.”