Win or lose, SFU’s women’s soccer team had already made history. In the team’s first-ever playoff appearance in it’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) era, the Clan was the underdog against a Western Washington team that was ranked first nationally and had been undefeated in the regular season.
For the team, it wasn’t good enough just to make the playoffs — even if they were faced with the toughest matchup in Division II women’s soccer.
“One of our goals this year was to make the Great Northwest Athletic Conference [GNAC] [playoffs], but for us it was something that we assumed we could reach — it wasn’t an unattainable goal,” said assistant coach Anna Picarelli. “Going further in the playoffs was our bigger goal.
“A lot of people expected us to come in this game with the mentality of nothing to lose, but for us, [our mindset] was to come out and show them that we’re more than [that] — we’re somebody who wants to compete,” she continued. “I think the girls showed that. It was unfortunate what the scoreline was, but I don’t think that was the tale of the game.”
In the end, SFU fell 3–0 to the team whose only blemish all regular season was a 0–0 tie. Western Washington held possession for much of the game, and was just too fast. The team gave up few chances, and had some deadly opportunities that could have made the score greater than 3–0 were it not for SFU goalkeeper Priya Sandhu.
Despite this, SFU held on for much of the first half. Western Washington was awarded numerous free kick opportunities, but Sandhu kept the door shut. The Clan’s best chance of the half came about 10 minutes in, when Monpreet Heer set up Katelyn Erhardsen with a scoring opportunity to give them the lead, but Erhardsen’s shot went just wide.
Western Washington finally got on the board with 13:56 left in the half. It turned out to be all they needed, but in the second half, the Vikings shored up their lead with two goals scored within 1:17 of each other.
“A lot of people expected us to come in this game with the mentality of nothing to lose”
SFU put up some solid chances in the last part of the game, but was ultimately shut out. Sandhu made eight saves in the game.
Though the first-round playoff loss on home field stings, the women’s team has made some clear progress. The second consecutive year that SFU’s home field played host to the GNAC Championship, it was the first time in NCAA history that the team has made the playoffs, having fallen just one win short last season.
When head coach Annie Hamel took over in 2014, she inherited a team that in its previous three seasons had only four wins combined. After her first season where the team went 2–16, SFU put up consecutive winning records. And now they’ve had a taste of playoff action.
“It’s one step forward for the program, and hopefully next year we take one more,” said Picarelli.
Now comes the time to put in the work to take that next step.
“The offseason, that’s our favourite time of year,” explained Picarelli. “It’s our time to actually give the girls proper training and hours on the ball. When you’re in season, it’s one day of training and then a recovery day, then a game, and it’s really hard to actually be able to teach.”
With two consecutive Freshman of the Year awards, recruiting has been a strong spot for the team. With some solid additions, this SFU core could certainly take that next step in the coming season.
While the game’s result was a heartbreaker, the future is bright for this young team.