Playing the U SPORTS National Champion is no easy task, but the UNBC Timberwolves didn’t back down, battling the UBC Thunderbirds with grit for the second consecutive day, before eventually falling 3-0 on Saturday, September 25 in Vancouver.
One day after a marathon effort, the Timberwolves managed to come out with solid energy and intent in the early going of the rematch. They earned a free kick opportunity which resulted in a Morgan Holyk header over the crossbar in the 10th minute, and held off the T-Birds attack for much of the opening 15 minutes.
The Thunderbirds did present problems with their signature speed and persistence, and broke through in the 18th minute. A great ball from Ella Nuttall-Smith found Tess McRae in all alone, and she did well to chip an oncoming Brooke Molby to make it 1-0 in favour of the home T-Birds.
“We are no strangers to being down, in a way, so we are good at refocusing and keeping our heads up,” said UNBC’s Grace Gillman. “I don’t think it impacts us too much, but it gives us more urgency. More to drive to get to their net. Yesterday, we were holding and trying to keep a clean sheet, but we needed to look to advance more.”
The TWolves were then faced with the challenge of clawing back into a game with the reigning U SPORTS National Champions. UNBC leader Kiana Swift was particularly strong, winning battles all over the pitch and emboldening her young teammates to dig in against the mighty Thunderbirds.
“Kiana has an impact all over the pitch, really. We rely on her so much to hold that central position, and she creates so many opportunities for us going forward,” said Gillman. “She is so solid making sure they can’t connect. She is also strong in the air, which we need against a tall team like UBC. Kiana has been awesome for us all year.”
Injuries to starters Sonja Neitsch and Jaslin Mandaher forced UNBC coach Neil Sedgwick to abandon his playing time gameplan and utilize his bench in the first half, substituting Grace Gillman and Kenzie Chilcott into the match. For the rest of the half, the Timberwolves did well to hold off a number of dangerous UBC attacks. Shots through 45 minutes favoured UBC 10-3.
The Timberwolves continued to use the full bench, opening the second half by inserting Claire Turner, Robyn Zinkan, Hallie Nystedt, and Kjera Hayman into the game.
Six minutes into the half, Dani Mosher was taken down in the UNBC box, and the T-Birds were awarded a penalty kick. Danielle Steer stepped to the spot and converted the PK opportunity, doubling the UBC lead on her fifth goal of the season.
Four minutes later, off a broken play in the Timberwolves box, UBC’s Mosher gathered it and found Steer backdoor for the tap-in behind a helpless Molby as the Timberwolves backline started to show its inexperience.
Hayman was strong off the bench, causing issues for the UBC backline with her speed and tenacity, creating a number of moderate opportunities for the Timberwolves. In the 90th minute, UNBC was awarded a free kick from 30 yards out after Monika Johnson was fouled on a run. Kiana Swift hammered the free kick off the crossbar, but the ball bounced out of play.
Just two minutes later, with UNBC applying pressure, it was again Swift; unfortunately, it was again the crossbar. The third-year came within inches of getting the Timberwolves on the sheet, but the soccer gods had other ideas.
“We wanted to score so badly. We knew it was a focus, to win those last few minutes, and there was a real urgency to get forward and support,” said Gillman, postgame. “It was major to get those opportunities, practice some of our set plays, and work on things we have done in training. We need to make sure capitalize on those the next few weeks.”
When the final whistle was blown, it was the Thunderbirds with the 3-nil victory, earning their fourth clean sheet in as many games.
Molby was again stellar in the UNBC net, making seven saves, for a total of 21 on the weekend.
The Timberwolves will make the trip back to Prince George and get set to host the UBC Okanagan Heat next weekend at Masich Place.
“We just need to keep focusing on the little things. We make improvements every single game. So, continue to build, continue to improve, and hopefully create opportunities to score some goals.”