T-wolves have eyes on playoff spot

They might rank last in the Canada West Pacific Division standings.

As far as the UNBC Timberwolves are concerned, that's a deceptive lie. Because they're not playing like a last-place team.

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Not with Paige Payne hovering within striking range.

The third-year midfielder from Kitimat booted her way into the conference lead for goals in a season last weekend when she scored three times, accounting for her team's entire output in a pair of losses on home turf to the MacEwan Griffins.

UNBC lost the opener 3-2, then suffered a 2-1 defeat in the rematch on Saturday against the Pacific Division third-place Griffins, who improved to 7-2-1.

Payne has been a royal pain in the side of the T-wolves' U Sports Canada West women's soccer opponents and now has eight goals in 10 games. That's just one fewer goal than UNBC's entire season output in 2017.

The difference this year is the youthful T-wolves haven't been quite so stingy on defence. With four games left in the season they've allowed 27 goals, six more than they did last year in a 14-game regular season.

Consequently, the T-wolves (1-6-3) find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs. They're not far behind, just two points back of the UBC Okanagan Heat (2-6-2) for the sixth and final spot. But with four games left, the T-wolves can't afford to lose more than they win down the stretch.

They have a tall order on their hands Friday when they hit the field in Calgary trying to upstage the Prairie Division-leading Dinos (9-0-1). The Dinos have won nine straight after opening with a one-goal loss to Alberta.

Saturday in Lethbridge the T-wolves will take on the Lethbridge Pronghorns (1-8-1 through 10 games). UNBC wraps up the schedule next weekend at Masich Place Stadium, facing Thompson Rivers University of Kamloops and UBC Okanagan.

If they win two of those games and tie one the T-wolves will match their 2017 season record. That 3-7-4 mark put them into the Canada West playoffs for the first time since joining the league in 2012. Head coach Neil Sedgwick knows the odds for another postseason berth for his team are not great, but certainly not impossible.

"Playoffs are there for us when we look at the teams we play against and where we are sitting," said Sedgwick. "Essentially, 13 points the last few years gets you into the playoffs and that's within reach.

"We hope we've prepared well for this, what they call the sharp end of the season. This is where we'll see what kind of growth we've had and hopefully things come together for us."

Four of UNBC's six losses have been by one-goal margins.

"The team just wants to keep playing and they want success so they can show people they're doing positive things, but it's hard to say, 'hey we're playing really well,' when you're losing games by a goal, and in soccer that's the only measure people see," said Sedgwick.

"But the team is playing exceptionally well. We recognize it, the players recognize it, the opposition teams recognize. So it's just a matter of those pieces coming together."

The T-wolves and Dinos last met in the quarterfinal playoffs last year, a 3-0 Calgary win.

"It's always difficult when a young team plays a top team and we saw growth within that 90 minutes when we played them in the playoffs and we hope we can take that into Saturday's game," said Sedgwick.

Two of the three goals the Griffins scored in the first game of the doubleheader came off corner kicks and Sedgwick said his team addressed its vulnerability in set pieces between games. The Griffins had eight corners Saturday and failed to score on any of them.

"We stuck to the way we wanted to play the game and we had success in doing it against a very tough team that had already beaten some of the top teams in Canada West," said Sedgwick.

Payne has been finding the back of the net with regularity, a product of the T-wolves being more creative this season generating offence throughout the lineup.

"Paige has been finishing a bunch but a lot of that stuff comes from a good team functioning together," said Sedgwick.

The UNBC men will be in action Saturday and Sunday afternoon (both at 2 p.m.) against UBC Okanagan. The final two regular-season home games will be the last chance for UNBC veterans Francesco Bartolilllo, Conrad Rowlands and Gordon Hall to play in front of a Prince George audience.

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