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UNBC women tackle Manitoba in playoff soccer

Even if the U Sports Canada West women's soccerseason ends tonight for the UNBC Timberwolves with a playoff loss to the Manitoba Bisons on the field at Thunderbird Stadium there will be no blame and no shame.
Graduating players Kyllie Erb, left, and Madison Emmond, were all smiles last Sunday after helping the UNBC Timberwolves women’s soccer team clinch a second-consecutive playoff berth in a 1-0 defeat of the UBC-Okanagan Heat. The T-wolves take on the Manitoba Bisons in a sudden-death playoff game tonight in Vancouver.

Even if the U Sports Canada West women's soccerseason ends tonight for the UNBC Timberwolves with a playoff loss to the Manitoba Bisons on the field at Thunderbird Stadium there will be no blame and no shame.

Not for a team nobody expected to qualify for the postseason.

Getting there for the second time in the school's short university history in back-to-back seasons was an unexpected bonus for Neil Sedgwick's young squad, made up predominantly of first- and second-year players. Whatever happens in their game tonight, the T-wolves plan to use the experience to their advantage as they try to mold themselves into a championship contender.

They're not quite there yet, as their 3-8-3 season record would attest, but the T-wolves saved their best for last, beating Thompson Rivers University and UBC-Okanagan in their final games of the season to emerge from a three-team logjam and claim the final playoff spot.

Fifth-year midfielder Madison Emmond, one of two graduating T-wolves, along with defender Kylie Erb, relishes the chance to extend her career at least for one more week as a result of their surprise playoff run.

"We definitely lost some key players last year but we had some girls who just worked really hard in the preseason and they was definitely some building but everyone came together and we created a new team and we pulled it off," said Emmond.

"I think our team really does perform under pressure. There's been lots of times where we sit in the change room and everyone is on the same line and we get it done."

Emmond joined the team as a Prince George youth soccer recruit in 2014, when UNBC's university program was heading into its third season. For those first few years of her Canada West career, wins were blue-moon occasions. But in the past two seasons the T-wolves have put their struggles to become competitive behind them. Just one of their eight losses (7-0 to UBC) could be classed as a blowout.

"Credit to all those girls (on previous years' teams) because they worked hard and we couldn't be here without them," said Emmond. "I think we just needed someone like Neil to come in and mesh us together and that's exactly what he did."

The T-wolves are hoping the two-hour time change will have a negative effect on the Bisons, who have made the trip from Winnipeg. The winner goes on to face UBC (10-3-1, second in Pacific Division) in a quarterfinal playoff on Sunday. The last time the T-wolves played at Thunderbird Stadium, a year ago, they pulled off an upset when they tied UBC 1-1.

UNBC and Manitoba did not play each other this year. They did meet in each of the previous two seasons and Sedgwick has seen enough game film to know how they like to operate.

"Manitoba is a good matchup for us, they'll be tough," said Sedgwick. "The last time we played them, last year in Winnipeg, we won 1-nil, so that's more positive thoughts for the girls returning and should be a good game."

"Last year they got a chance to go to the playoffs for the first time and this year they have (another) chance now and can they be at the level where they can get past the first round. We'll try to keep them focused there on that possibility."

The Bisons (6-5-3) finished third in the Prairie Division. In those 14 games they scored as many goals (15) as they allowed. Bruna Mavignier, a fifth-year midfielder from Brazil, accounted for five of those goals.

"They have some strong players on attack and they've always been quite solid defensively and I think that's how they rose to the top of their division," said Sedgwick. "We'll have to watch for (Mavignier), she's very good and very technical and we'll have to watch for her because she brings something that perhaps the players haven't seen throughout the season."

The T-wolves totaled 19 goals this season, 10 more than last year, and it was defence (31 goals allowed, 10 more than in 2017) which proved their nemesis. Paige Payne led the T-wolves with eight goals and rookie Sofia Jones was next in line with four goals.

"I remember my first year we'd score maybe three goals in a season and now it's cool to see girls are scoring more than three goals themselves in a season," said Erb. "We're getting goals from a lot of players and that shows how much the program has grown."

Game time tonight is 6 p.m. The webcast is available on Canada West TV.