By Kirk Jessome
After another season of continued improvement in 2018, the Tigers women’s soccer team was looking to continue that momentum into the 2019-20 season.
Fourth-year midfielder Maya Venkataraman led the way for the Tigers this year, notching seven goals and an assist. The team captain and AUS first team all-star finished fifth in the conferencing in scoring and eighth in total points. Fellow AUS first team all-star Rachelle Lalande finished just behind her with five goals.
Perhaps, however, the story of the season was the emergence of the Tigers group of young keepers.
After starting the season with a statement 4-0 win over Moncton with Annabel Gravely earning her first career start and clean sheet, the Tigers hit a bit of a skid in their next three games.
After three consecutive losses, the Tigers bounced back with four wins in a row, conceding just one goal during the winning streak. Karina Koepke and Gravely split time in nets and each earn wins.
During that stretch, the Tigers were earning big wins, with Venkataraman and Lalande leading the scoring, thanks in large part to some stellar passing and deadly accurate corner kicks from Catherine Guevin-Nicoloff, who picked up six assists during the season.
Adding another win over Mount Allison and three draws, the Tigers were undefeated in the back half of the regular season, finishing with a solid 6-3-3 record to earn the fourth seed heading into the AUS playoffs with lots of confidence.
Head coach Cindy Tye praised the defensive core of her team, acknowledging that the rookie keepers were a big part of their success.
“Their performance was critical to us continuing to build a program that is competitive in every game,” she says. “The core of keepers we had pushed and supported each other in training and took on the challenge of stepping into a tough AUS league.”
With those keepers allowing just eight goals in 12 games, Tye knows they had lots of help to be successful.
“With veterans like what we had in the back, they took a lot of pride in their responsibilities and filled those roles very well. I believe they also felt a greater responsibility to protect and support our rookie keepers, and we will continue to build on the foundations they have set.”
Moving into the AUS tournament, the Tigers were up against the UNB Reds in the quarter-final. Kaitlyn Woodworth was able to send home a scramble goal in the box to give the Tigers a lead at the half, but the Reds were able to solve the Tigers defensive puzzle and took a 3-1 win to send the Tigers home.
As the Tigers look ahead to next season, Coach Tye knows that some pressure will move to the young roster that will return as they plan to build on the success of the regular season this year.
“We will look to our younger players to step into those spots and take their opportunities to contribute and fill those gaps. They have the ability, a variety of skill sets between them, having been working hard in the off-season, and are ready for the challenge.”