Callender’s late winner puts Gaels in Final Four

Late-overtime goal gives women’s soccer chance to repeat championship

Tara Bartram battles the Gee Gees defender for the ball.
Tara Bartram battles the Gee Gees defender for the ball.

The women’s soccer team is heading back to the OUA Final Four. 

 The reigning OUA Champions began their title defense this post-season with a 1-0 extra time win over the Ottawa Gee Gees. Laura Callender’s 110th-minute goal sealed the winner for her team in what was a thrilling quarterfinal knockout match.  

The Gaels were matched up with a familiar opponent on a chilly Sunday afternoon at Richardson Stadium, with the teams having already played two closely contested matches this season. The Gee Gees had the advantage in the season series, taking a win over the Gaels at home and splitting the points with a draw in Kingston.

 It was a match that took place primarily in the midfield, with both teams managing to keep the play away from their nets. Even before extra time, penalties seemed a 

foregone conclusion, with neither team losing their defensive resolve, and players on both sides feeling the effects of a hard-fought ninety minutes. 

 However, in the 110th minute, with just ten minutes to go before spot kicks, midfielder Matija Skoko outran her Ottawa defender to a ball by the corner flag, stepping around her opponent to send a cross pass to fellow midfielder Laura Callender standing in the 18-yard box. Callender, square to the net, ran the defensive line past two defenders to give her just enough room to place the ball into the bottom right corner of the opposing net, past the helpless Gee Gee’s keeper. 

It was an incredibly clinical highlight reel finish, made even more impressive by the fact that the Gaels had already been on the pitch for just shy of two hours.

Coach Dave McDowell couldn’t understate the importance and class of the game-winning goal that clinched his team’s spot in the semifinals. “For her to roll across two players and then finish — that’s pretty special,” he said.

 McDowell also talked about his words with the team at the end of regulation time. “Our mindset was just keep going,” he said, adding how he thought they were already the better team in the second half and just had to “keep the wheels turning.”

He knew that when it came down to it, “we just had to generate something special,” as shown by Callender’s spectacular finish.

Callender echoed her coach’s sentiments about the team’s mindset after 90 minutes. “We knew we were the fitter team. There was a feeling on the bench and in the girls on the field that we were going to get it — we just had to find an opening”, she said. 

More specifically on her role in finding that opening, Callender said, “everyone else was tired so I was just trying to get a shot on target. I was just trying to push my way to goal.”

Callender added how playing a tough game like this one at the start of the playoffs could be very beneficial to the team. “To get a challenge this big — it gives us confidence early on”, she said. “It really prepared us for the next few games playing tough opponents.”

The Gaels travel to London to face Western on Friday, with the winner of that match earning a berth in the CIS National Championships, and a shot at the OUA title the following Sunday.

As Callender said about her team’s return to the Final Four, “we’ve been working so hard for this, even from the end of last season … we’re excited to be back and defend our title.”


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