Women's Soccer: The CIS national preview

The CIS women's soccer championships start Nov. 10--we need say no more.
With that in mind, here's a look at the eight teams in the tournament, how they got here, who they've got, and what might happen.

University of Ottawa Gee-Gees (12 - 3 - 1; 2nd in OUA East, OUA bronze medal):

The Gee-Gees last took part in this tournament in 2008 which is, incidentally, the same as when their opponents, Dalhousie, were last involved. They went out 1 - 0 to Montreal.

Since then they've never finished below third in the OUA East, usually behind Queen's. This year, despite another second-place finish and a 1 - 0 semi-final loss to Laurier, they actually were better than Queen's in the second half of the season.

The Gee-Gees are a more experienced squad with several players who featured in their 2008 team. There is young talent being developed, though, with rookie Julia Francki scoring five times this year in 16 appearances. Rookie Pilar Khoury has an even more impressive six in 11. The rest of the Gee-Gees scoring is by committee, with five or more from six players. Elisabeth Wong is the main offensive threat with 10 goals.

Cynthia LeBlanc is a more-than-capable goalkeeper and the team only gave up seven goals this year while scoring 57.

Whether they can produce big numbers against the better teams remains to be seen as they lost twice in big games against Queen's this year. It's easy to rack up big 7 - 0 and 8 - 0 wins against Trent, RMC and Ryerson. It's harder to do that against teams that can actually defend. Ottawa don't have a huge track record of high-level success, but they are favourites against Dalhousie.

Dalhousie University Tigers (9 - 3 - 1; 3rd in AUS, AUS champions):

The Tigers are almost ridiculously young, and yet they made a strong run to the AUS banner, knocking off Saint Mary's and UPEI in the process. They've routinely used at least four rookies in the starting 11 this year, sometimes more.

The young recruits are backed by some more senior players, too: Rieka Santilli looked a cut above an AUS midfield all year and Taryn McKenna is a national-calibre goalkeeper.

The youth is probably their greatest strength and greatest weakness. Dalhousie are unpredictable, hard to plan for, and they play with a certain fun in their game that probably helped them get through a long AUS weekend. At the same time, their two starting centre-backs for much of the season were rookies Kristy McGregor-Bales and Jenna Gabriel. They rely heavily on Doriana Homerski up front as a target forward.

If Dalhousie can possess the ball against Ottawa they'll give themselves a chance to nick something, especially if the experienced leaders seize their long-awaited chance at national glory after two near-misses. They'll need a bit of luck to beat Ottawa, though.

University of Alberta Pandas (9 - 4 - 1; 3rd in Canada West, Canada West runners-up):

Alberta are a tough team to figure. They rely to an absurd degree on Heather Lund for scoring but they play a defensively sound game that doesn't need too many goals to succeed. If the Pandas go anywhere in this tournament, it won't be pretty.

There might be more hope for Alberta if they hadn't drawn Queen's in the quarter-final. Can they cause an upset? They did take Trinity Western to penalties in the Canada West final, and if any team can shut down Jacqueline Tessier and Kelli Chamberlain, it might be Alberta.

There's also a chance their style of play might match up well against the Gaels'. Laurier have had success playing a gritty, conservative game against Queen's in the past.

A lot will come down to whether Kelti Biggs can come up with enough heroics. She'll need to make several fantastic saves on Thursday if Alberta are to have a chance.

That said, if they stick it out long enough and Queen's panic, they might have a chance and it's in those situations where Lund is the most dangerous.

Queen's University Gaels (13 - 1 - 2; 1st in OUA East, OUA champion, defending CIS champion):

The Gaels need no introduction, as they're something of a dynasty. There was little doubt that this team would be in the finals for 2010, and there seems little doubt they will be this year, too.

There have been wobbles in 2011: a 3 - 3 draw with Toronto on Sept. 25, followed up by a 1 - 0 loss in the reverse fixture may be cause for concern. At times it's been easy, at times injuries and conditions haven't cooperated.

So much of a nationals run is luck, and Queen's are in a good position with a very easy bracket. If they beat Alberta, they'll play either Dalhousie or Ottawa. Or you can look at it as more opportunity to run into banana-peel teams.

Either way, the Gaels can score with Tessier and Chamberlain and defend with Chantal Marson. While everyone watches Tessier, Riley Filion strikes--she has six goals this year. The team also has incredible depth on the bench, allowing coach Dave McDowell to make fatigue and tactical adjustments.

Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks (12 - 2 - 0; 1st in OUA West, OUA runners-up):

Laurier have some hard times. They barely lose the 2010 CIS final to Queen's 1 - 0, then have to watch the Gaels take all the plaudits beating up on a relatively weak OUA East conference this year while they struggle in a competitive OUA West. They get to the finals and lose to Queen's--again--this time on penalties.

Allow Tania Pedron one long, primal scream for a second. She must be steamed.

The good news for Laurier is that this will probably give them more to play for. There is no chance this team is going to lose sight of their goal.

They've even gone and found a striker--correcting one of last year's major flaws. Emily Brown is a rookie, but she had nine goals. Laurier only found 36 goals this season, not bad by any means, but well below fellow OUA representatives Ottawa and Queen's. Brown will fight the same adjustment problem as Dalhousie's Homerski. Krista Cellucci had ten, but did little last year at nationals. They're still a defense-first team.

Université de Montreal Carabins (12 - 0 - 2; 1st in RSEQ, RSEQ champions):

Oh, this game should be fun. Think back a year. Laurier frustrated Montreal badly enough that Claire Robbins kicked someone and Kevin McConnell got tossed for hollering some very foul language at the referees. And now they meet Laurier again.

The CSA would be well-advised to make sure there's a sharp official on this game because Montreal will try every trick in the book. They dive, they whinge, they bump late and they score some truly incredible goals.

This is, no doubt, one of the most talented teams in this tournament. Eva Thouvenot-Hébert is a special talent and has filled in for the departed Véronique Laverdière. They're undefeated for a reason and they ran up some pretty frightening scores on the way. It's an experienced team that, incredibly, hasn't won CIS gold despite all their incredible ability. The intensity with which they wanted the trophy last year was matched only by the intensity with which they fell out of the competition.

The Carabins are unlucky in their draw--they probably have the single most difficult path to the finals. Even if they do beat Laurier in the rematch, they'll likely run into Trinity Western, who have also put them out before.

There has to be vengeance on this team's mind. If they focus it, viewers could see some incredible soccer played on the weekend. If not, it might mean a long night of paperwork for the referee.

Trinity Western University Spartans (12 - 1 - 1; 1st in Canada West, Canada West champions):

Something happened to the two-time defending champions last year. When they lost their opening game this year, it looked like Graham Roxburgh might have a real problem.

Since then, they haven't lost a game, drawing only once at UBC. The Spartans are arguably still the best team in the country from a purely technical perspective, only they've got a lot to prove after a rut-filled 2010.

Trinity Western have some of the best attacking talent in the tournament and can easily start five strikers if they want to. Nikki Wright and Daniela Gerig lead the group, but Alicia Tesan is there, too. Melissa Mobilio has provided five years worth of service. Jenna Di Nunzio and Tessa Meyer dominate the rest of the midfield with Colleen Webber and Jilian Dietrich in defense. Kristen Funk is probably the best goalkeeper in the tournament.

This team is stacked and has some younger depth as well with rookie Sarah-Kim Bergeron having a good year. Execution is sometimes a problem for the Spartans and their tendency to win games on penalties (it helps that Funk can both score and save them with the best) is worrying--they only won the Canada West banner after a shootout.

McGill University Martlets (8 - 3 - 3; 3rd in RSEQ, CIS hosts):

McGill has a quite wonderful start to the season, matching Montreal stride for undefeated stride. Then it all fell apart and a four-game winless streak made them a below .500 team after Sept. 18.

The Martlets are lower scoring than the Carabins and when they're at their best, tough as nails defensively. When they're not, they're giving up three goals to UQTR.

This has the potential to be a short tournament for McGill, up against the Spartans in the quarter-finals. They're the perfect team to cause an upset, though, and if they do they could face Montreal in the semi-final. The Martlets managed two draws against the Carabins this year.

McGill may be the Laval of 2011: the runners-up from RSEQ face an unenviable draw and can't quite compete with Montreal.
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