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T-wolves say goodbye to soccer seniors

UNBC men end Canada West season with narrow win over WolfPack; TRU women find win column for first time in final game

It wasn’t the result the win-starved Timberwolves hoped to achieve on the last day of the Canada West women’s soccer season but there was still much to celebrate for the UNBC squad.

Their 1-0 loss Sunday to the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack was a bittersweet farewell on the field at Masich Place Stadium for the eight T-wolves who played the final U SPORTS game of the athletic careers.

They’ll still see their teammates around campus for the rest of the school year and they might play a few games of indoor soccer together this winter at the Northern Sport Centre. But that thrill of lacing up their cleats and donning the green and gold to take on another university playing their sport of choice at the highest level possible is now nothing but a memory.

There’s no way to turn back the clock for the graduating T-wolves – Kierstin Vohar, Grace Gillman, Sarah Zuccaro, Hallie Nystedt, Sonja Neitsch, Madison Doyle, Brooke Molby and Mikaela Cadorette. The 12 games that made up the condensed season and marked their return to the soccer field for one kick at the can after a year-long pandemic pause are now history.

“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, we’re not just a team, we’re a family and we’ve grown together,” said Cadorette. “I think you can see from our first game back two months ago to now how much every single individual has put into this team and I’m proud to be saying I’m leaving a team I can call my family.

“We were probably viewed as the underdogs the entire season and coming up against some hard teams early on proved to ourselves we can fight and we can be in games and people can’t count us out. It comes down to work ethic and team mentality and I think we have all that.”

In their final game of the season the WolfPack earned their first taste of victory and it was enough to move TRU (1-8-3) one point ahead of the T-wolves (1-9-3) into seventh place. Georgia Aldis scored the only goal on a penalty shot awarded to the WolfPack after UNBC defender Kenzie Chilcott fouled TRU centreback Raiya Rumo deep in T-wolves territory. Aldis’s low shot found the net in the 64th minute and it came after UNBC had put together a string of glorious scoring chances.

Veteran forward Monika Johnson was the most snakebitten T-wolf. Stopped on a first-half breakaway chance, Johnson kept making things happen in the offensive end to start the second half, teaming up with Kjera Hayman and Morgan Holyk to put pressure on goalie Danielle Robertson. Johnson had at least three shots from scoring range go wide of the goal before Aldis connected on her penalty kick.

“It was our last game so very emotional – we wanted to put everything on the field, which I think we did,” said the 25-year-old Johnson. “It’s tough losing to a  penalty shot but we played together regardless. We attacked together, we defended together, we put everything on the line.”

Johnson played three years and was an All-Canadian with the Fraser Valley Cascades and was out of the game for four years before she resumed her Canada West career this season. She knew when she joined a young UNBC team the learning curve would be steep and the T-wolves would take their lumps.

“In the preseason we were losing a lot but we just kept our heads up and used that as a learning experience,” said Johnson. “We played the hardest teams in the league (early in the season) and that just made us stronger as a group. We’ve been hard to get past and girls can only score on us when they’re going over us. A lot of girls underestimated us and we gave them a good fight.”

Dressed in bright pink duds guarding the T-wolves’ goal, Molby did her part to keep Sunday’s score close, as she did throughout the season as the starting goalie, with Doyle, her usual tag-team partner, out for the season with a concussion. Molby’s quick feet and stealthy anticipation negated numerous WolfPack attacks and the small but vocal gathering in the Masich stands clapped their appreciation for her efforts.

“Obviously it wasn’t the result we wanted, especially for me in my last game, but I’m really proud of the girls and everything they’ve worked for this year,” said Molby. “We had lots of chances, a lot more than we had the beginning of the year, and its great to see how much we’ve progressed and hats off to the girls for working to the very end.”

Half of the T-wolves had never played a Canada West game before this season and after three blowout losses in the first half of the season they were within a goal of a win or tie in each of their final six games.

The UNBC men finished their season on a high note Sunday, scoring a 1-0 win over the WolfPack. UNBC got off to a quick start, 2:48 in, when Michael Henman was left unguarded in the middle of the crease and popped in a fat rebound after TRU goalie Jackson Gardner failed to catch a ball that came off the foot of T-wolves midfielder Kensho Ando. Ando’s crossing feed was his sixth assist, tops in Canada West this season.

“We executed our gameplan really early and it was really good when Mikey potted a good one and we just had to grind it out,” said UNBC defender Alex Nielson, who joined the T-wolves in 2015. “This team is big and you just have to grind against them and we really rose to the challenge. It wasn’t the season we wanted but it’s a good result.”

Five Timberwolves on the men’s team - Nielson, Joseph Giesbrecht, Owen Stewart, Stu Rowlands and Hussein “Suka” Behery – ended their Canada West careers on Sunday. Nielson, Stewart and Giesbrecht earned their stripes playing youth soccer in Prince George and in a post-game ceremony they had a chance to salute the hometown crowd and the support they received throughout their careers.

Stewart, a five-year T-wolf, broke his leg challenging for a ball two weeks ago against UBC-Okanagan and was hobbling around the field Sunday on crutches watching the end of his soccer career unfold.

“I would have loved to be in there, but the boys got it done and what a way to end it, it’s nice to go out with a win,” said Stewart, whose 11 goals ranks third in UNBC team history. “It obviously sucked not to be out there with the boys battling, but they did it today and it’s awesome.

“I would say any P.G. who grew up here would want to play here. It’s the best spot, the best facility in all of Canada West and it’s a dream come true. It’s just an amazing group of guys to share this with.”

The win moved UNBC (2-5-5) out of the basement and they finished one point ahead of UBC-Okanagan (2-6-4). The WolfPack (4-3-5) needed the victory to move ahead of UBC into second place and earn the right to host a Canada West quarterfinal and they came on strong in the second half, keeping the T-wolves pinned in their own zone for long stretches. When they did get through, goalie Daniel Zadravec stood up to the test, with plenty of help defenders like Gregor Smith, Cody Gysbers and Nielson, who all came through with blocked shots and last-second clearances out of the danger zone.

Rowlands finished his five-year UNBC career with nine goals, tied for fourth on the all-time team list, and coach Steve Simonson left him in the game until the final three minutes to try to improve on that total.

“I wish I could have got a few more but everybody does,” said Rowlands.

Kamloops-based TRU will travel to Calgary to take on the first-place Mount Royal Cougars on Saturday, while UBC hosts the Calgary Dinos on Sunday. Fraser Valley will head to Alberta to play the Golden Bears in another quarterfinal on Saturday, while on Saturday the MacEwan Griffins play at Trinity Western.

In the women’s quarterfinals on Friday, Regina will head to UBC and Calgary plays in Saskatchewan, then on Saturday, Fraser Valley is at MacEwan and Victoria is on the road against Trinity Western.