For the second time this season, the Varsity Blues women’s soccer team welcomed the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks to Varsity Stadium. And for the second time this season, the Blues emerged victorious against their Oshawa-based opposition.
While the Blues had previously claimed a 3–1 victory against the Ridgebacks on September 13, this Wednesday’s hard-fought 1–0 was much more impressive. The victory also ensured the Blues’ advancement to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinals, where they will face the Queen’s University Gaels in Kingston on Sunday.
While the game’s lone goal was scored via a header from the ever-impressive Miranda Badovinac in the 17th minute, the Blues had to remain alert at the back throughout the 90 minutes to ensure victory. Ridgebacks forward Taijah Henderson, who missed the previous clash between these two teams, was a constant threat to the Blues’ defense. Henderson led the Ridgebacks’ intense high press early in the game, while the Blues struggled to impose themselves.
At the other end of the pitch, the Blues’ forward trio of Badovinac, Erin Kelly, and Jenny Wolever struggled to break past the Ridgebacks’ disciplined defensive line until the 13th minute. A 45-yard goal kick by Blues goalkeeper Vanna Staggolis bounced favourably for Kelly, who booted the ball toward Wolever on the left flank.
Wolever’s initial cross into the box was blocked by a Ridgebacks defender, but Badovinac was aware of the situation, and claimed the loose ball. She cut in front of Ridgebacks defender Mikaela Tierney, who was adjudged by the referee to have fouled her inside the area.
Blues captain Maddie MacKay stepped up for the ensuing penalty, knowing that a goal could ease the building tension in the team and force the Ridgebacks to loosen their defensive shape in search of an equalizer. Ridgebacks goalkeeper Alicia Chisholm had other plans. The first-year keeper dove low to her right to palm away MacKay’s effort, sending the boisterous Ridgebacks supporters into raptures.
MacKay made up for her miss a few minutes later, intercepting a loose ball from the Ridgebacks and lobbing it toward Badovinac, who laid the ball off for Kelly. Brushing off a challenge from Tierney, Kelly unleashed Wolever down the left flank. Wolever’s delivery this time was inch-perfect for Badovinac to head into the far corner of the goal.
The Blues established a greater foothold into the game as the first half progressed, giving it a more exciting end-to-end dynamic. Both teams suffered a few defensive lapses in concentration but neither were able to capitalize.
In the 26th minute, Blues defender Daniella Cipriano played a corner to Mackay, who found herself in acres of space 23 yards away from the goal. She launched a looping ball toward the goal that beat Chisholm but rebounded off the crossbar. In the ensuing counter-attack, Henderson displayed good hold-up play and earned a foul from Blues defender Anna Crone from 18 yards out. Ridgebacks defender Julia Listro then sent a shot to the bottom right of the goal, forcing a good save from Staggolis.
The Ridgebacks spent much of the second half camped in the Blues’ half but they were unable to find an equalizer, despite the Blues’ nervy defending. In the 85th minute, Listro received the ball from a throw-in and lobbed it into the box, beyond four Blues defenders. Ridgebacks midfielder Melanie Hoekstra received the ball ahead of Crone and fizzed a shot across the face of the goal. Despite a barrage of late attacks, the Blues held on to book their place in the OUA quarter-finals.
After the game, Associate Head Coach Angelo Cavalluzzo praised the Blues’ defensive organization but said that their aerial defending was poor. “Not super pleased with [the defending], I think we could have been a lot better. We have been a lot better. That’s a positive that we still kept a clean sheet even though things weren’t as tight as… they should have been.”
“If you watch our performances from the beginning of the season compared to now, it’s totally different,” he added. “I think we’ve improved leaps and bounds, and I think [the Ridgebacks have] improved leaps and bounds. They gave us a game tonight, and they were a lot better than the team we faced earlier in the season.”
The Blues will face a tough away game with the Gaels in the quarterfinal. Their record against the opposition is poor, having last won in 2014. In their 10 games against the Gaels since that victory, they have lost eight times and drawn twice.
The Blues will need to execute their defensive plan against the Gaels perfectly if they are to advance to the OUA final four. Otherwise, they will need to hope that their front three can add to their 18-goal tally, and, given their performances over the course of the season, Blues fans have good reason to expect that one of them will find the back of the net.
Disclosure: Michael Teoh previously served as The Varsity’s Volume 138 Deputy Senior Copy Editor and Volume 139 Business Editor.