Reflecting on the season with women’s soccer’s Chris Laxton
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
It’s been yet another historic season for Chris Laxton and his team, and the program overall here at Douglas College. I had the opportunity to really talk to Chris in depth about the entirety of the season as a whole after the team’s National bronze medal victory. Here’s what the head coach had to say about his team’s remarkable year.
Davie: Yet another great season from yourself and the team this year. How did the season go overall in your eyes?
Chris: “I thought the season started off with some inconsistent play, and we really did look like a team with half a squad of new, young first team players. Our turning point on the season had to be that Capilano game where we came back and scored late in the second half to win. After that, everything was gelling and we found ways to win. By the end of the season, I would’ve never predicted that we could do what we ended up doing. That was all on the team, and how cohesive they were, whether they were with us (the coaches), Leanne, or Jake. I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
D: You mentioned the season turning around at the Capilano game (October 2nd). What changed within the team?
C: “I think the players were understanding their roles better. They were willing to step up in their roles more. I challenged them at half time of the Capilano game. I asked each of them to step up and give everything to the team and to be a difference maker. And by the end of the game, things began clicking very well. But I think the main thing was how well they clicked together, and enjoyed being together, and playing together. And even how goofy they were. Like at Nationals, how they were acting in the shootout of a bronze medal game was not what you normally see. They were goofy, they were silly, and they were having fun, and that was so important.”
D: After that Capilano game, your team went on to finish the league without dropping a single point. What was that like?
C: “The two games following the Capilano game were against the Langara Falcons, who were top of the league at that time. We won 3-0 on the Saturday, and I don’t think the score was indicative of the battle. But we came out on Sunday and hammered them. Our performance gave us confidence, and then VIU showed up and we beat them pretty well. We had some blips like the game against Quest. But even in the last game against Capilano, we had a lot of players that hadn’t played a lot step up. The game we had circled all along was the first game of the Provincial Championships, because that’s the game that gets you to Nationals. I think you saw a little nerves set in, but I think the confidence and the bond they’ve built shone through.”
D: What there ever any complacency within the team?
C: “I don’t think there was any time where we were overconfident. I think we were underdogs for most of the year, and particularly at Nationals. We were ranked 7th and we never played the 8th seed, so we were always the underdog, and that always fueled us. I definitely wasn’t worried about that. Going into next year? Potentially, but we have players that want to make statements and need to step up, and there will be a lot of competition in the group. So I think we will be able to sustain what we’ve created.”
D: Let’s talk about the semi-finals of the Provincial Championships. Was there ever any concern going into extra-time having lost the lead?
C: “Cap had a couple of good chances before tying the game. And again, I think that showed signs of what a young team we were, where we could have done better on those. I’m not sure if there was any sense of loss or anything, but Leanne stepped up at the end of regulation and reminded them of all the work they’ve done and that went a long way. I told the team going into extra time that if we went a full 30 minutes, we were going to get it. Soccer is just that sort of game where if you’re the better team and don’t take your chances, it will come back to bite you in the end. We were confident, but there were nerves, because that was probably the biggest game we played this year.”
D: How has the mental performance side of the team really improved this year?
C: “Leanne has done an amazing job with the group. The players saw how much the graduating players from last year bought into it, and the culture of being tough in that part of the game has really sunk in. I think through Leanne, the players were able to overcome stuff in their life, and off the field, and were able to really focus on playing more. The players also had a place to vent, whether it was about me, or a ref. Mostly about me, I think. At Nationals, we made sure that Leanne’s program was exactly what she wanted, and was consistent. I think that’s why we could do so well after taking a hard loss in the gold semi-finals, and I think that’s why we were so loose in the shootout for a National medal. Their improvement speaks a lot to Leanne and what’s she done, but ultimately the players bought in, and that’s a part of the game that we often neglect.”
D: So talk to me about Nationals. What was the tournament like for the team?
C: “I think the National tournament was fantastic. The facilities were gorgeous. They had an indoor field next to the outdoor one. Montreal is a beautiful city. So much culture, and things to do. I think for the players, the half that had gone before, they knew what to expect this time around, which was massive. For Leanne and me, it was much easier this time around. We both know what we needed to do, and how I needed to conduct myself.
The first day there, we went on a tour of Montreal. We had a training session, and then it was time for the banquet. Instead of sitting in our hotel and dwelling on the tournament, we went out and had a great day in Montreal.
The first game we went in ready to go. The team was spot on with their prep and training. There was a bit of intimidation getting drawn against NAIT in the first game. They’re a good program and had medaled in five of the six last National tournaments. But we were confident. It happened that their weakness was our strength. They didn’t have the same pace in the back as we see over here, and Mikayla was really able to tear into them. Our video session was minimal. Otherwise it was just, get out there and have fun. We wanted to see if we could upset the soccer world, and we did.
The semi-final was tough. Again, our preparation was great. But things didn’t go our way.
We got ready to play Grand Prairie on the Friday. We didn’t want to play on Friday, but we did. We played them in the pre-season so we knew what to expect. We got the result we deserved.”
D: How hard was it to bounce back after that tough semi-final loss?
C: “It was easier to bounce back with this group. I think that shows a lot of what Leanne has been doing. The whole time, they were ready to make history. Losing in the final didn’t mean we couldn’t match or better what we did last year. And then playing NAIT again was a bit daunting. I don’t like playing the same team in the same tournament twice. I think it’s hard to beat the same team twice, and that game proved it. After it was 1–1, it was pretty much destined for a penalty shootout. Going into a penalty shootout, we were so confident. I’ve never seen a team more confident. I said we have to win in three shooters, but four is just as great.”
D: Did anything in the team’s play change going into extra time?
C: “A lot of our style changed because of our nerves, and because of the situation. I get that a lot with young players that haven’t been playing at that level of pressure for very long. My goal going forward is whether or not we are able to play our style consistently, even in the big games.”
D: Walk me through the shootout of the bronze final. What was that like?
C: “Once we went into the shootout, it was just a matter of deciding who wanted to shoot. I ask the players who wants to shoot, and you always hope 10 hands go up. I had about four hands go up, and it was just about who would shoot where.
The first save was huge, and that goes far to show what Rich has been working on with the ladies. We missed the first shot, but that wasn’t too concerning. Alexa came up with another big save, and Madi roofed her shot. You ask goalies to make two saves in a shootout, and Alexa made three. Andi put away the goal and from there; it was extremely hard to lose.”
D: You had two new captains on the field this year. How do you feel about their performance this year?
C: “Sam has done great. I’m glad we gave her a bit of a push last year. She was able to watch two really great captains in Kelsey Acaster and Tiffany O’Krane. With the help of Leanne, she was able to form her own style. She communicates well with players and does anything that we ask of her. Her play is so consistent, which is great for a captain. I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do in the next couple of years.
Wessa was kind of nervous to take on the captain role. I don’t know if she felt that she was right for it. She isn’t someone that is going to scream, and yell, and motivate. But she’s a worker, and I wanted someone who would lead by example. She’s calm, has the players back, and she speaks up when she needs to. She took on a role almost like a team mom. You couldn’t do anything to the players and not have her back them up.”
D: Who were your key impact players this year?
C: “Andi would have to be our key impact player on the offence. She’s either scored or assisted half our goals. She came with a point to prove this year, and she did it. As we got deeper into the season, teams started targeting Andi, but she got better as the season wore on and still found a way to contribute.
Defensively, Wessa would have to be the key. She cleaned up a lot of messy balls. She could hold possession if we needed her to. And she even chipped in offensively this season.
D: Rookie(s) of the year?
C: “Sonali was terrific. She was so consistent for us. It was great that she was awarded for all her work at Nationals. Alexa stepped up massively for us this year. She’s also been a great leader off the pitch. Madi Hendry actually came in as a redshirt for us this year. But through preseason, she went from a redshirt to a starter. She played anywhere we asked her to play this year, which was everywhere apart from centreback and goalkeeper. She made an impact everywhere she went.”
D: Unsung hero?
C: “Sarah was our unsung hero. It was tough first half of the season for her, but she bounced back in the second half and did everything we expected of her, and what she expected from herself. She cleaned up a lot of messes as well. She had to mature a lot as a player from last year to this year, and she did.”
D: Comeback player of the year?
C: Jas Gill struggled last year getting some flow, and being connected. We put her at the fullback position this year and she did great. She was one of the players who didn’t travel with us to Nationals last year. For her to take what could have been a negative experience, to starting and playing every minute, was pretty impressive.
D: Best memory this season?
C: “Celebrating after the Langara 4–0 win was the best memory this season for me. We were just flying as a team. Everything was going our way. We got back to the change room, debriefed, and I had bought a pumpkin pie, so we all shared some pie like a family.”
D: Most stressful game this year?
C: “The most stressful game would have to be the home opener, if not the Provincial semi-final game.”
D: Final comments on the year?
C: “It was just such a fun year with such fun, talented players. It was a great year with the coaching staff. I think the coaching staff we have here is easily the best, and it rivals CIS coaching staff for sure. It’s just been a remarkable ride, and the players should be proud of what they’ve accomplished this year.”