In a windy, messy game on a less-than-perfect neutral site in Calgary, the Manitoba Bisons edged the University of Norther British Columbia Timberwolves 2-1 to advance in the Canada West playoffs.
With both teams dealing with intense wind the first half was relatively uneventful until the Bisons struck first in the 37th minute. Hailey Lavarius wound her way into the box, before beating a sprawling Brooke Molby to her right, opening the scoring.
Just four minutes later, the TWolves responded. Kaya Oro Martin played a ball to Paige Payne who found time and space in front of Manitoba keeper Alexis Anderson. Payne dribbled past the charging keeper and deposited it, evening the score 1-1.
“Luckily, the wind almost worked to our advantage on that one. Kaya played a beautiful ball, and it got right to me,” said Payne. “The goalie took a step but lost her footing because the ground was so bumpy.”
In the second half, with the wind now at their back, the Timberwolves generated the better chances early in the second half. Mara McCleary took a free kick from 22 yards out and hit the crossbar in the 64th minute.
Just three minutes later, Payne and jones found themselves on a rush, with the ball on the foot of the Kitimat product. Payne got all of a blast that seemed destined for the net, but Anderson made an incredible diving save to her right, somehow managing to keep it out.
“Their keeper dealt with a lot of the balls really well. She was really confident,” said Payne, postgame. “She made a beautiful save, honestly. Good for her, because that was a tough one, and I think she carried that confidence forward.”
As it often happens in sports, a missed opportunity at one end led to an opportunity at the other, and the Bisons didn’t miss. A ball was played in the air towards the TWolves third. Brooke Molby came out to play it, but the wind grabbed it, and it fell to Manitoba’s Nicole Davis. Davis did well to catch Molby in no-woman’s-land, putting it up and over and into the gaping cage to give the Bisons a 2-1 lead.
The Timberwolves pressured the Bisons for the remaining twenty minutes, testing Anderson from distance. The wind played a factor, but the keeper did well to turn away attempts from Kiana Swift, McCleary, and Ashley Volk.
The referee blew the final whistle, ending a weird, messy battle in which neither team was able to fully implement any sort of real tactics. With the victory, the Bisons advance to play the Calgary Dinos on Sunday, while the Timberwolves are eliminated from the Canada West playoffs.
“We are playing how our program wants to play,” said Payne. “I am very proud of winning the Fair Play Award. We come out of games with our heads held high and I am super proud of our group.”