After a dramatic win in penalty kicks in the OUA quarter-finals, the men’s soccer team is in unfamiliar territory.
When the Gaels play the McMaster Marauders on Saturday, it’ll be a first for every Gaels player. Queen’s, who lost to the Laurentian Voyageurs in last year’s first round, hasn’t played in the OUA Final Four since 2007.
But just making it to the semi-finals was never the team’s goal.
“It’s definitely an honour, but nothing’s been accomplished yet,” said Gaels captain Joe Zupo. “Hopefully we can come back to Queen’s with a medal and a trip to nationals.”
With a win over McMaster, the Gaels would advance to the OUA championship game and automatically qualify for nationals in Quebec City.
Although the Marauders are ranked two spots higher than the Gaels in the CIS national rankings, Zupo said he’s confident in his teammates.
“If we stick with what’s worked for us, I think we stand a chance against whoever we come up against — whether in Ontario or Canada.”
With the potential for a lot of pressure falling on the players, staying focused on the task at hand will be vital.
“We’ve always talked about taking one game at a time,” said head coach Chris Gencarelli, who was named OUA East Coach of the Year on Wednesday. “We’ll treat it like any other weekend: three points at a time.”
Another key to the Gaels’ success will be their more experienced players. Patrick Zanetti, Adrian Rochford and Nick Pateras, the team’s fifth-year players, will be instrumental in keeping younger players focused, as they’ve done all season.
Gencarelli said he plans to go with a balance of youth and experience in Saturday’s starting lineup.
“You choose your [starting] 11 based on that week of practice and how players are able to respond in high-pressure situations,” Gencarelli said. “I think a little bit of veteran presence is important.”
No matter who starts, the Gaels will be ready in their first Final Four showing under Gencarelli.
“We’re really looking forward to playing in a high-stakes game where everything’s on the line,” Gencarelli said. “We’ll learn a lot about who our team is on Saturday.”
– Peter Reimer
The Queen’s Gaels and Laurier Golden Hawks will experience a case of déjà vu when they square off in the OUA Final Four.
With the top-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees and McMaster Marauders set to play in the other semi-final, the Final Four is comprised of the exact same teams as last year.
This marks the third straight year that the Gaels will meet the Golden Hawks in the OUA’s final playoff rounds.
“They’ll be out to get us based on the last two years,” said Gaels co-captain Riley Filion.
In 2010, Laurier took home the OUA title, but the Gaels played their best soccer in the CIS tournament and won the national championship.
Last season, the Gaels won both the OUA and national titles, beating Laurier in both championship tournaments.
This year, both teams boast a number of OUA All-Stars heading into Saturday. Five Gaels were named to the East Division team and four Golden Hawks were selected to the West teams.
Filion, one of Queen’s First-Team All-Stars, believes experience will be key to beat the Golden Hawks.
“They lost a bunch of starters from past years, but it seems like they’ve filled their team with talented rookies,” Filion said. “It will be nice to have lots of experience on our side, as we have six fourth-year players.”
Not much has changed from past Queen’s-Laurier tilts. The returning players are familiar with their counterparts and both teams have kept the same coaches the past three years.
“We’re prepared for them to be really good at keeping possession, as that’s been their style of play in the past,” Filion said.
The Gaels are hoping to show the resiliency that got them to the Final Four after defeating the Toronto Varsity Blues in overtime in last Sunday’s OUA quarter-final.
Midfielder Alexis McKinty scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in Queen’s 3-1 win.
The Final Four begins on Saturday in Ottawa, with the Gaels taking on Laurier at 2 p.m. If the Gaels advance to the OUA final on Sunday, they’ll earn an automatic berth into the CIS championship.
– Jordan Cathcart
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