The Algonquin Thunder women’s soccer team went on a quest for gold in Peterborough for the OCAA provincial championship over the Oct. 29-31 weekend.
Since they were undefeated throughout the regular season and are nationally ranked the third-best team in college women’s soccer, the team entered with a target on their backs.
Thankfully they did win the gold in a dominant fashion against the Seneca Sting, who have been tournament rivals and a team they have faced in the gold medal match for the last three years, on Oct. 31.
The road to the Thunder’s gold was oddly reminiscent of the year before where they started their campaign with a 1-0 victory, defeated the Cambrian Golden Shield in the semi-finals and went on to face the Sting in the finals.
Their first game against the Sheridan Bruins, of the Central division, was a defensive shutout that only saw five overall shots from the Bruins.
The Thunder won 1-0 in that game, where Kandyce Whitehead put away a goal on a scramble after a corner kick.
It was fitting that the Thunder began their post-season with a shutout. Between goalkeepers Jenna King and Karleigh Bell, who was the goalkeeper for the three games, they had nine shutouts out of the 12 games played. They shared the award for top goalkeeper in the Eastern division.
It was overall a very stressful game for the Thunder, as an early whistle prevented the Thunder from winning 2-0 and instead had to play under the pressure of a 1-0 victory.
“I was nervous the whole time,” said rookie Becky Leese, who was playing in her first playoff game. “I guess that’s why I didn’t have the best game. I’m so happy for my team and that we scored and pulled off the win, because a win is a win.”
Leese earned the best overall rookie of all of the OCAA, as she tallied seven goals over the team’s regular season. In the second game, she was able to get the offence started very late in the game in a contest they won in a miraculous comeback victory against the Golden Shield.
The Thunder scored twice in the last five minutes to bring the game to overtime after trailing 2-0 the entire match. Once in overtime, they scored two goals in two minutes to win the game 4-2.
Rookie Haleigh Robertson was awarded the tournament’s MVP, and a factor seemed to be because she helped get the team to the gold medal match – tying the semi-final to send it into overtime and then providing them with another goal to give them a 4-2 cushion.
“I’m actually honoured,” said Robertson about getting the award. “I didn’t even think I would be since it’s any player from any team so it’s pretty awesome.”
Even more impressive for the comeback was the fact that it was an adjusting period as the Thunder were playing without veteran player, Kandyce Whitehead, after she was ejected with a red card.
Being down a player, defender Melissa Harrison had to play back more to ensure tight defence. Since Harrison often handles throw-ins, the responsibility went to second-year Darby Perry.
“I’ve probably only done five-throws in games before,” Perry said with a laugh. “I just had to think of how my other teammates did them and try to do it properly.”
She adjusted, as did the rest of the team in the close semi-final.
“It was a really emotional game,” said Perry. “I think that’s what helped us pull through was working together and having a lot of heart. In the end, it’s probably one of the best games I’ve played (in) my life.”
Once the team got to the gold medal match against the Seneca Sting, they won the game in a 4-1 victory.
The three matches in three days were also physically demanding.
“It’s definitely taken a toll,” said Taylor Stefanich with a laugh. “You don’t really feel it when you’re on the field because you have that adrenaline going but (I’ve) definitely been sore.”
Stefanich was the Thunder’s only player to have a goal in the first half of their three games.
The Thunder will have to play hard again when they go to the national championships in Peterborough on Nov. 10 to 14. But under head coach Dominic Oliveri’s guidance, their aspirations are high as the team has only lost one game with Oliveri as the coach in three years.
“We knew we had something special with this group,” said Oliveri. “I think they proved how special they are as a group the last two days.”