Chasing glory out east

Gaels prepare for U Sports National Championship after winning silver medal at OUA Championship

Matija Skoko scored twice to book Queen’s spot in the U Sports National Championship.
Matija Skoko scored twice to book Queen’s spot in the U Sports National Championship.
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After Thursday’s 1-0 win against St. Francis Xavier University, the women’s soccer team is within reaching distance of the U Sports National Championship.

Against their opponents from out east, Queen’s struck early. Tara Bartram found herself on the end of a long through ball pass, leaving her one-on-one with a defender. When the Gaels forward pushed the ball to her left, the defender wen the wrong way, leaving Bartram alone with the goalie. With her next touch, she struck the ball, curling it into the back left corner of the opposing net. 

The score would be the only of the game, placing Queen’s in the final four of the U Sports National Championship tournament.  

After the team booked itself into the national tournament with their silver medal at the OUA Championships last weekend, midfielder Matija Skoko spoke to The Journal. Going into the tournament, she knew the team had a different focus than last year.

“Last year, there was a lot more excitement — we were all so happy to be going. Not that we’re not excited now, but everyone seems a bit a more intense” she said.

Skoko attributes the team’s focus and drive to both missing out on the OUA title this year, and the team’s knowledge that they have a squad that can win an even bigger tournament. 

“We had a better season this year than we did last year — we’re playing better more consistently,” she said.

The team will be focused on pushing beyond their fifth-place finish from a year ago, and ultimately take the biggest prize that they can. With the win, they are guaranteed to finish in fourth place or above.

The single-elimination tournament is being hosted by Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia for the first time since 2000. The last time the tournament took place in a Maritime city — 2011 in Charlottetown — the Gaels ended up with a national title.

Last weekend the team was in London defending their OUA title from last season against the top seeded UOIT team. The Gaels came up short in their pursuit, losing 1-0 in a hard-fought final on Sunday. 

Though they were the defending OUA champions, the Gaels came into the OUA final four as the lowest ranked team and their quest for a second title wasn’t an easy one.

Their first match of playoffs against the Ottawa Gee Gees was a close one that the Gaels were able to slip out of with a 1-0 overtime win. In their semi-final match-up with Western, nothing could separate the two teams until the second half, when Matija Skoko scored two goals to clinch the team’s birth into the OUA finals and a spot in the Nova Scotia national tournament.

Speaking about the 2-0 victory that made certain her team moved on to play against the best in the nation, Skoko mentioned that it was a “dream come true” to net such crucial goals.

During the year Skoko admitted that there were one or two chances that she should have scored. “I thought to myself often that if for whatever reason my team didn’t make it out of playoffs, it would be because I didn’t finish a chance that anybody else would have.”

Despite being in the hostile London crowd for both their semi-final and final OUA playoff games, Skoko believed Queen’s supporters changed the mood pre-game. “Coming in at first I was intimidated,” she said, “but once we arrived and the game got going the nerves were gone.” The support for the team balanced the environment to the point, she mentioned, that it didn’t even feel like it made much of an impact playing against the hosts.

The Gaels did have one stumbling block over the weekend, conceding the OUA title to the UOIT Ridgebacks on Sunday in a 1-0 defeat. The goal the team allowed in the finals was the first they had given up in nearly a month — managing shutouts against every opponent going back to the last time they played UOIT on October 14.

The team will be looking to maintain that defensive prowess and reignite their momentum with their win on Thursday as they prepare to take on UBC — who beat out the hosting Acadia team 1-0 in their Thursday match — on Friday afternoon.

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