The UFV Cascades and Alberta Pandas engaged in a wild second-half shootout on Saturday evening at MRC Sports Complex, and when the dust had settled, the two teams were all square at 3-3.
The Pandas took a 1-0 lead into halftime on Brooke Lang’s goal in the 26th minute, and the offensive fireworks commenced soon after the teams returned to the pitch.
Sarah Parker and Jashan Sandhar connected to give the host Cascades the lead, and then Anna Dunn and Sydney Daines responded to restore the Alberta advantage.
Daines’s goal came in the 86th minute and had the Pandas poised to snare all three points, but UFV captain Brittney Zacharuk came through with a sensational strike in the 89th minute to secure the draw.
The result leaves the Cascades at 4-5-3, good for fifth in the Pacific Division, while the Pandas sit second in the Prairie Division at 8-1-3.
“It was surprisingly open,” UFV head coach Rob Giesbrecht marvelled. “You think as you get close to the post-season, you’re going to tighten things up and you’re going to be really sound defensively. We just kind of started forcing mistakes of each other, and then capitalizing on those mistakes.
“I think we let it get away from us for a little while in the second half, and luckily, a moment of brilliance by Brittney saved a point for us.”
The Pandas opened the scoring off Brenna Mattiello’s free kick to the right of the UFV penalty area. Mattiello’s effort found Lang alone at the far side of the box, and she slotted home a low shot.
Parker came off the bench in the 58th minute and scored her second goal of the campaign in the 59th. An Alberta defender tried a pass back to goalkeeper Rebecca Reif, but Parker came from out of nowhere to poke the ball past Reif into the net.
Eight minutes later, rookie forward Sandhar gave the Cascades the lead with her first career Canada West goal. On a scramble in the box following Zacharuk’s corner kick, Tavia Jasper knocked the ball back to Sandhar, who fired in a rising shot.
The Pandas had an answer, though. Anna Dunn, in the 74th minute, came blazing down the right wing and hammered a top-corner shot just out of the reach of UFV keeper Joven Sandhu.
In the 84th, Sandhu came up with a massive breakaway stop on Karissa McNutt, but shortly thereafter, Daines gave Alberta the lead in the dying minutes on an outstanding strike from the top of the box into the bottom left corner.
But Zacharuk came through in the clutch to secure a point for the hosts. Amber Korner slipped a pass ahead for Zacharuk down the left wing, and her first touch was a stunning strike from distance that arced over the fingertips of a diving Reif inside the far post.
“High drama, and lots of desire to put the ball in the back of the net,” Alberta head coach Liz Jepsen said. “Two teams playing full-out for the win, and in both cases, attackers managed to get it in the back of the net.
“Lots of fight in both teams. These are all fine young athletes, and that’s what it takes to play at this level.”
The Cascades honoured left back Amber Korner and midfielder Avneet Bhullar in a pregame Senior Night ceremony. Both player have been with the UFV women’s soccer program for at least five years – six in the case of Korner, who redshirted last season after ACL surgery.
Korner, in addition to picking up an assist on Zacharuk’s tying goal, was named the Cascades’ player of the game.
“These are great girls we have in our program, and they have great character,” Giesbrecht said. “We talked about honouring our seniors today, and I’m thrilled we were able to do that and show the character that makes us who we are, by coming back.”