Royals start the season on an even keel
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
As the women took the field on a wet Wednesday, fans in the stands could notice something different about this year’s team, or rather, that things weren’t quite the same. This year’s women’s soccer team only boasts a few familiar faces from last year’s national ranking team. Whether or not this team could match the previous squad’s skill and speed was about to be put to the test.
The early start that some teams hoped for was not the reality that faced Douglas. Right out of the gates, the Royals matched up against the Langara Falcons, who held nothing back against their bitter rivals. It was a cold way to start an even colder night, but the adrenaline and blood pumping through both team’s bodies kept them warm.
The Royals needed that warmth, as they lost battle after battle in the frosty September air. Their ground game was much better, and although they got more runs and dangerous looks at the net than Langara, they failed to get their shots on net. On the other side of the field, the Royals defence held back what could have been dangerous chances and turned them into missed shots or easy saves. Both sides refused to budge and they took an even game into half time.
Coming out of half, the only thing that changed was the Royals’ luck. An iffy card started it off, and things just got worse and worse from there. Several moments later, a bad bounce and an error from the Royals goalkeeper gave the Falcons the lead with an easy tuck-away goal.
Down a goal, the Royals found a way to turn on the pressure and keep it on. The Royals got several shots towards, but never really on, the net. A couple of bounces and lofted kicks did it for the game, and the Royals lost in a tight match.
“We didn’t create enough solid chances tonight,” said head coach Chris Laxton after the game. “We had one mistake at the back today and that’s all it took. I thought it was a nil-nil game but all credit to them for capitalizing on our mistake.”
The team had a lot of work to do in quite little time. Four days after their match against the Falcons, the Royals had an even bigger challenge coming their way. It was bound to happen sometime this season; the VIU Mariners were coming for a visit, and they wanted some sweet revenge for the loss that the Royals handed them so deftly at provincials.
The intensity of the game was established quickly as Royals defender Sonali Dholliwar found a hole and took advantage, scoring the first of the game. However, VIU came right back and scored 2 within 10 minutes of the first goal. But the Royals recovered, and were able to hold as they rode out the rest of the half.
Coming out in the second, the Douglas College team looked better, but were still unlucky. Off the attack, a VIU shot bounced and ended back on the foot of a Mariner, who tapped it into the net and put their team up two goals.
It was going to take a hefty effort from the defending provincial champs to come back into this game. Good thing the Royals have plenty of that. A magnificent shot from midfielder Chanelle Collins sent the ball flying into the top right-hand corner of the net, and gave the Royals the goal they needed to get back into the game.
However, after the play, it was right back the other way. Although the Mariners didn’t score, an unfortunate collision sent the Royals keeper, Chantalle Bracken, off the field, and secondary keeper Alexa Gazzola into the net. The Mariners were not at all kind to the new keeper, and converted on an excellent chance following a corner kick.
Never to be counted out, the Royals charged back up the field. A lethal looking play forced a bad foul for the Mariners just outside of the penalty box. A resulting yellow card and free kick gave Andrea Perrotta a chance to bring the Royals close again. She delivered perfectly, sending the ball in a downward arc into the bottom right-hand corner.
A few moments later, it would be Perrotta with another opportunity to convert for the Royals. A hard foul inside the penalty box gave the home team a chance to equalize from the spot, and Perrotta got the nod to take the shot. She led up with a perfect step, and a slight move that sent the Mariners keeper flying to the right, while she coolly tucked the ball away into bottom-left corner.
With the game level, the Royals took a sigh of relief. They let up on the control for just a little, but soon realized that was a bad mistake. A missed clear from the jubilant Royals created a turnover for the Mariners, and a goal on the ensuing break.
With time running out, the Royal needed a miracle to draw even. Royals forward Mikayla Hamilton delivered the game-tying strike from quite the ways out. On a bad angle, Hamilton took the best shot she had, and ripped the ball into the top left-hand corner, giving the Mariner’s keeper no chance.
It would draw flat from there, as Hamilton’s strike would be the last to end up in the net that game. With little time on the clock remaining, both teams settled for the draw, rather than risk losing the game. It was a goal scoring bonanza, with a final score of 5–5.
After the game, Laxton took the time to address his team’s performance on the pitch. “We battled hard today. We came back from being down three different times, and I think that shows that this team has heart. We’re always looking for three points, but VIU is a good team, and a draw against them coming into the season is a fine result.”
As thrilling as that game was, it was only the first of two that the team had to play that weekend. Next up on the list was the Quest Kermodes. The visiting team from the Valley has always been a challenge, only made more difficult by the intense week the team had already.
Nonetheless, come kickoff, the Royals were ready to play. It was a match of skill against freshness and speed. The Kermodes came into Sunday’s bout after having Saturday off, and they were just a bit quicker than the Royals. But the Royals showed everyone just why they were national competitors. Skillful play ensured the ball stayed out of their end, and although they didn’t get many scoring chances, they denied chances on their end, and the match headed into half-time on a draw. Coming out of half-time, it didn’t look like much had changed. Play was so equal that any mistake would probably result in a game-winning goal. For the skillful Royals, it didn’t take too long into the half before they were able to force a game-changing mistake. An ugly turnover by the Kermodes as a result of constant Royals pressure gave co-captain Michelle Wessa a chance from the 25-metre line. She lifted the Royals with her shot, which went up and over the goalkeeper, and into the net.
The goal lit a fire under the Kermodes. The Royals were forced to play defence against the Kermodes’ angry offence, and Alexa Gazzola made several magnificent saves. Still, the Kermodes managed to get one shot past her, which was saved by midfielder Madison Hendry, who lifted the ball up and out of danger from the goal-line.
The Kermodes kept pressing until the end, but still couldn’t get a ball past Gazzola and the Royals, who closed out the game 1–0, and ended the weekend 1–1–1, with 4 points to their name.
After the game, Coach Laxton shared just how pleased he was with his goal keepers this year: “We have a very strong goalkeeper core this year. Our goalkeeping pool is as deep as it’s ever been, so I was confident putting Alexa in yesterday, and I was confident with her starting today.” The rookie rewarded Laxton’s faith in her with a huge game and delivered the Royals their first win of the season.