From bench-warmer to ball thief, Sarah Riddle completed the transition and helped solve the mystery of how to score on the UNBC Timberwolves.
Her poke check stripped the ball off the feet of UNBC defender Taylor Samuelson and that sent Riddle in alone on goalie Jordan Hall to trigger a three-goal second-half outburst which gave the Grant MacEwen Griffins a 3-0 CIS Canada West preseason win over the T-wolves Sunday at North Cariboo Field.
"I had the chance to go at it, and I got through the first centre and slotted it in," said Riddle. "I took another touch, and I probably should have shot, which put me into another defender (UNBC's Tanya Grob), so I had to beat both of them and the 'keeper."
Three minutes after Riddle scored, Griffins captain Jennifer Lam's corner kick found the forehead of Kayla Evans. CIS rookie Bianca Olivieri made it a it 3-0 count at the 70-minute mark, wasting no time unleashing her shot after accepting another perfect crossing feed. It was obvious at that point, the T-wolves were destined for their second preseason defeat of the weekend, coming on the heels of Friday's 2-1 loss to Thompson Rivers University.
"We've got a lot of freshmen we're trying to integrate into the program and we used this weekend to try some different combinations and today we made five (lineup) changes at halftime and we knew if we were persistent and kept playing our game that things would change for us and it certainly did in the second half," said Griffins head coach Dean Cordeiro, who guided Concordia University's women's team to a CIS silver medal in 2012.
"UNBC played a great game, a helluva a first half, and when you get that first goal you get some momentum and it turned into us finishing strong."
Riddle, 18, is making the jump from high school in Edmonton to the CIS and knows it will take time to develop into a regular with the veteran-stacked Griffins.
"It's intimidating, but it's also good competition," Riddle said. "Everyone is so good, you have to fight for your spot and that keeps everyone on their toes. They have the experience and they're passing it on to us."
The Griffins have nine leftovers from the team which won the 2013 Canadian college national crown, the year before they made the jump to the CIS, and six of those veterans made the trip from Edmonton to Prince George. One of them, forward Jazmyne Mauthe, came close to opening the scoring midway through the first half when she brushed a shot off the inside of the goalpost.
The T-wolves had their defence well-organized in the first half when they had the wind at their backs and stayed close to their checks which limited the Griffins to only a few incursions deep into UNBC territory.
"We hung with them for almost 60 minutes and we defended really well as a team but things started breaking down a bit and that's understandable, we're working in a new system on our offence," said UNBC captain Fiona Raymond.
"That comes with some mistakes sometimes and that's where they capitalized because they are a really good team. It's really good to play teams like this because that what you need to challenge yourself to beat. They're an excellent attacking and we can look at how they play and take tips from that."
The T-wolves had a couple of legitimate scoring chances on Griffins goalie Emily Burns but put their best shots at the net high and were a little off-target with pass attempts to open players, which ended up costing them, especially in the second half when the Griffins offence started connecting.
"MacEwen is very good team, their midfield is especially strong and we played very well for 60 minutes and then started to break down," said T-wolves head coach Andy Cameron. "We're a young team and made little mistakes and the veterans on the other team started to pick us apart. We struggled a bit when we had the ball and we made a lot of unforced errors, but that's a reflection of being one week into training.
"Our girls are frustrated for all the good reasons and there's lot to build on. We're better than we were last year and that was a quality team that beat us."
The T-wolves finished the 2014 with a 1-9-2 record. This year's 22-player squad is made up of mostly first- and second-year players and they will be looking to the five-year veterans, Grob and the Hall twins, Jordan and Sydney, for leadership to build some momentum in the new season.
Grob said the loss to the Griffins showed her team will have to work hard on conditioning the next two weeks.
"The first half I thought was very good defensively but the second half we were tired, which obviously isn't a good excuse," said Grob. "It's still preseason so we can work on that. This game we tried to press high up the field (with the defenders joining the rush) and that's something I know I have to work on, to press sooner."
In Saturday's game, Grant MacEwen beat TRU 3-1.
The T-wolves will now prepare for their season-opener at home Friday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. against UBC-Okanagan. The UNBC men are scheduled to play their first game of the season that same night in Victoria.