This year’s women’s soccer team proved themselves as one of the best varsity teams in Queen’s history.
After Sunday’s shootout win in Montreal, the team joins the 1984 and 1985 men’s cross country team as the only Gaels squads to ever win back-to-back national titles.
In recent seasons, they’ve overcome career-ending injuries to veteran players and heartbreaking losses in high-stakes games on their way to success. They’ve experienced it all.
In the OUA final on Nov. 6, the Gaels went into overtime against the defending champions, the host Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, in Waterloo without captain Kelli Chamberlain and top scorer Jackie Tessier — who were both sidelined with injuries. The Gaels won anyway.
When those two returned at nationals — Chamberlain with a bandaged knee and Tessier on an ankle so bruised she could barely walk — the team rallied around them. Tessier was named to the tournament all-star team while Chamberlain scored the last penalty kick in the final.
But this season’s team had assets beyond Chamberlain and Tessier. Chantal Marson, Jackie Tessier, Riley Filion and Brienna Shaw were all named CIS Championship all-stars while Marson was also named tournament MVP.
In the regular season, Filion was named OUA East MVP, rookie Jesse De Boer received OUA East Rookie of the Year honours, Tessier was the OUA’s leading scorer for the second year in a row and six players earned OUA all-star status.
In a university system where turnover is a fact of life, the Gaels have been consistent. In the past three seasons, they’ve won an OUA Championship, two CIS gold medals, have made three straight national tournament appearances and have won three straight OUA East regular-season titles.
All this success is no accident — it’s been nearly five years in the making, with head coach Dave McDowell tweaking the roster each season to build this season’s championship team.
Chamberlain and Marson —the team’s only fifth-year players — said they remember their first two seasons as disappointing. They both joined the team in 2007.
The 2007 team struggled through the regular season and lost to the lowly Royal Military College Paladins in the OUA quarter-finals. McDowell proceeded to overhaul the team, bringing in 14 rookies and naming second-year defender Sara Buckham as captain.
In 2008, he brought in an impressive rookie class that included Shaw, Summer Rybicki and Angela Sullivan. It also included Jennifer Hutchinson and Victoria Gonzalez-Milroy, two starters from last season’s team who retired due to injuries.
In 2009, he added Tessier, Filion, Alexis McKinty, Chantal McFetridge and Mikyla Kay, all of whom started in Sunday’s final.
The 2009 Gaels won an OUA silver medal and were minutes away from an appearance in the CIS final before blowing a late lead and settling for fourth place. But that failure fuelled the team’s success over the next two seasons.
The women’s soccer team keeps winning because team camaraderie is instilled in their makeup. The team has a tradition of giving each other written messages during the playoffs — Chamberlain still remembers the ones she got from former captain Kate McKenna when she was a rookie in 2007.
“I’ve kept some of the [messages] she wrote to me,” Chamberlain said. “They really hit me deep and increased my confidence.”
The relationship between the veterans and younger players means this team still has a bright future. Several players — including Chamberlain, Marson and Shaw — will graduate but the Gaels are more than capable of defending their title next season.
Third-year players like Tessier, McKinty, Kay, Filion and McFetridge will fill those leadership roles, rookies De Boer and Breanna Burton will be more experienced and McDowell will almost certainly bring in some new talent.
The current team might be the best in Queen’s history — and they still have time to add to their legacy.