It was as dramatic as an AUS championship should be. Skill, physicality, luck, and desperation were all on healthy display Friday in Wolfville along with a good dose of legendary Nova Scotian weather.
"It was really wet," said Saint Marys' Jennifer Holland.
The Saint Mary's Huskies were outplayed for 90 minutes but overcame a penalty kick goal and beat the St. FX X-Women 2 - 1.
Lindsay Millet, who handled the ball in her own area to give St. FX the penalty, scored in the dying seconds of the match after a two-on-one break with Kelly Burgess.
"The girls kept fighting back and kept working hard," said Huskies coach Mark Sweetapple.
The first half of the game was a gritty, physical affair as predicted. Both teams fouled frequently and generated few chances on goal. Set-pieces nearly undid the Huskies. The X-Women won corner after corner, capitalizing on the wind to keep the ball deep in the SMU end. Despite some awkward saves by 'keeper Justine Caldwell and a crossbar, nobody could score.
Despite taking over the wind-dominance in the second half, Saint Mary's were burned on a St. FX counterattack. A bouncing ball in the Saint Mary's area blew onto Millet's outstretched arm as she tried to hold off the pressuring Melanie Sunada. Nicole Melong placed the ball in the corner easily from 12 yards.
Saint Marys' equalizer may be remembered for awhile. It could also become the signature goal of what is forecasted to be a windy, rainy tournament. With a free kick 65 to 70 yards from goal--certainly well inside her own half--Hayley Fox sent a bouncing, looping, blowing free kick over Anna Thompson's head and into goal.
The second half was fast and dramatic as both teams went for the win. St. FX thought they had it when Shannon Boisvert broke in down the left and floated a shot past Caldwell. After a conference between referee and assistant, the goal was called back for offside.
Extra-time lurked. Then a horrendous misread in the X-Women back four allowed Burgess to steal in with Millet. Thompson couldn't stop the slow rolling shot and it bounced into the goal with seconds left to play.
It was a performance St. FX will be proud of--they played hard and probably should have won the game but for some horrendous luck. Olivia Zanette had an anonymous performance while Sunada, deployed at striker by head coach Trevor Reddick, was excellent, hustling everywhere and showing a deft touch to create most of St. FX's chances.
In the day's second semi-final, Cape Breton thumped Acadia for four goals, including two in the first ten minutes. Right off the kick-off, Nicholle Morrison tried to recreate Fox's long distance strike and just about did, hitting the crossbar on the bounce.
Tara Rogers opened the scoring in the fourth minute, converting a cross from Morrison.
A minute later, Caitlin Shaw scored from 50 yards, and Acadia had lost their only playoff game in five minutes.
The Axewomen were toothless even by their own standards on the night and were certainly miles from competing with a Cape Breton team featuring a lot of talent that looked very comfortable. It only took 15 minutes for Ness Timmons to put his rookies into the game.
Cape Breton went three ahead after the wind carried a clearance out for a corner. Paula Serracin-Pitti was left utterly unmarked at the back post and headed in powerfully.
The second half reversed the wind, giving Acadia far more possession close to the Capers net. They created nothing, but neither did the Capers, leading to a snore-inducing final 45 minutes which a good-sized crowd endured despite an escalation in the storm that reduced visibility and introduced surfing as an AUS sport.
"We've got a younger team this year and it's a bit of a rebuilding team with losing our all-Canadians last year and our fifth-year players," said Timmons. "We've been playing 17, 18 players all season trying to peak at the right time."
The Capers will need to keep their strong form tomorrow in what should be one of the AUS women's match-ups of the year. Cape Breton meet Dalhousie in the semi-finals, a clash of two teams with attacking ability and strong defenders. Perhaps the biggest loss tomorrow will be that one of them won't head to nationals.
"We'll dream about Dal tonight," said the Capers' Alyssa Kavanaugh. "It'll be a playoff game. We're both equally matched defensively and offensively...whoever wants it more is going to win."
UPEI play Saint Mary's 2:00pm tomorrow, followed by the Tigers and Capers at 5:00pm (times Atlantic). Both games will be live-blogged on The CIS Blog.
[Cross posted to Haligonia Sports, Dal Soccer Live]
--Dylan Matthias is the incoming sports editor at the Dalhousie Gazette. He runs Dal Soccer Live on the side to provide more in-depth coverage of AUS and ACAA soccer. He has been a Toronto FC fan since Danny Dichio scored the team's first ever goal. It showed him the magic of soccer.