It had all the makings of a CIS women's soccer blowout, on paper.
Try telling that to the UNBC Timberwolves. They shredded all the naysayers' predictions and gave the University of Alberta Pandas a drag-em-down, teeth-and-claws dogfight.
UNBC still lost 2-0 to the Pandas in Friday night's home opener at North Cariboo Field, but in the process the T-wolves gained a ton of respect from the Canada West Conference frontrunners.
Jessie Cavendish and Katie Wilkinson supplied al the offence the Pandas needed to improve their first-place record to 3-0-1 and goalie Kelti Biggs nailed down her second shutout of the season, but it was far from easy.
UNBC forwards Sidney Roy, Sydney Hall and Jessica Manning made sure of that.
"They came out hard, a lot harder than last year and we weren't so ready for them, and you've gotta give them props for how hard they played to the last minute," said the 21-year-old Biggs, now in her fourth CIS season.
"They started breaking us down in the end but we held on to it, thankfully. We have some solid finishers up top, so even if I do let one in they have my back to get me a couple goals."
The Pandas had only a couple cracks at the T-wolves' net before Cavendish opened the scoring 16 minutes into the game, a high floating chip shot that caught UNBC goalie Jordan Hall a little too far out from the goal line.
The UNBC back line of Georgia Lahti, Tanya Grog and Fiona Richmond was stellar at covering up in the danger zone, limiting the damage to one goal in the opening half. It could easily have been a 2-0 Alberta lead if not for a missed penalty kick 34 minutes in. Striker Juilia Ignacio got taken down inside the box and Canada West all-star defender Shalla Kadima took the shot, just missing the outside of the cage.
UNBC midfielder Tianna Pius was persistent in getting the ball up to forwards in the first half but they had trouble finishing in front of Biggs. The second half was only three minutes old when Ignacio, a Team Canada striker at the Universiade in Russia in July, touched off a pretty three-way pass play that gave Wilkinson the ball 15 yards out from the goalie Hall. Wilkinson's NCAA experience showed as she waited for Hall to make the first move before firing a low bullet past Hall.
As deflating as that was to the T-wolves, they didn't let it get to them and answered back with their best offensive flurry of the game. Roy got Biggs out of position well out of her crease and the rebound came right back to Manning, whose shot went right into the outstretched arms of the 'keeper. But the most dangerous chance came a couple minutes later at the 10-minute mark when Roy whistled a high labeled drive, forcing Biggs to make a diving save.
The T-wolves outshot the Pandas 5-1 in the second half, in what surely has to rate as the best game of their young CIS history so far. UNBC is now in its second season as a probationary Canada West member.
"We're not getting results yet but at least we're improving, we did awesome and we're really proud of ourselves," said Roy, a 19-year-old environmental engineering major from Burnaby. "I just think it shows how much we've worked to be able to play in the CIS and we've proved to everyone we can be a real team to compete in this league."
The loss dropped the T-wolves' record to 0-3-0. UNBC is back on field Sunday at noon to take on the Mount Royal University Cougars of Calgary,