U of R soccer hosts Great Plains Challenge
The Cougar women open pre-season competition with a 1-3 record
The University of Regina women’s soccer team opened their season with their bi-annual pre-season tournament, the Great Plains Challenge. The tournament features fellow CanWest competitors as well as teams from across the northern United States. In the competition the Cougar women finished sixth out of seven teams with a 1-3 record. Their lone win came in a 3-1 victory over Thompson Rivers University. The result was not what the team wanted, but for fifth–year forward Kirsten Finley, there is definite progress and room for improvement.
“We did not get all of the results we wanted during the Great Plains Challenge, but we have learned from our mistakes and I believe we will go into our first weekend very strong.”
Despite the team’s poor record, it is only the pre–season, and all is not lost. The tournament serves as an opportunity to finalize rosters and integrate the new players, which is especially important for a young roster for the Cougars, who bring in eleven rookies while returning only six fourth and fifth-year players. This brings an opportunity for new faces to help fill in the holes, an opportunity assistant coach Rob McCaffrey sees the rookies taking in stride.
“Natalia McCullough, Sophia Stevens, Allyson Schneider, Sierra Kolodziej, Jessica Merk and Olivia Gables have been effective in their performances to date. Given the high number of first- and second-year athletes in the squad, we have encouraged them to set a high standard of performance in training to be ready to make an effective impact in matches when called upon.”
At the Great Plains Challenge, called upon they were. In the team’s sole win, a 3-1 victory over Thompson Rivers, Sophia Stevens, Jessica Merk, and Natalia McCullough all played the full 90 minutes, while Stevens scored one of the team’s three goals. For Finley, this competition has helped her to improve her own game.
“The first-year group has come in strong and ready to take positions of our senior athletes. This has been a great environment to train in this preseason as it has enhanced the competitive environment and allowed all players to continue to push themselves to become better.”
While this competition has helped the team to get better, Finley also appreciates the importance of leadership that the upper year team members bring.
“In my role, I have tried to ensure that this competitive environment is positive by supporting my teammates as best as I can both on and off the field.”
This leadership has also come from a strong core of six players who also represented Regina in the United Women’s Soccer league during Queen City United’s inaugural season. For McCaffrey, this experience has brought a lot back to the Cougars.
“The ability to play high quality soccer through the summer months against teams from Colorado, Santa Clarita, Calgary, and Los Angeles has been hugely beneficial for each player and our program.”
As a player, Finley has also seen the benefit of the Queen City United experience.
“The players involved in the QC program have brought back with them a high level of competitiveness which is greatly benefiting the team. These girls played a lot of teams from the United States and down there, the soccer is faster paced. By training with this tempo, we have been forced to play quicker and make decisions faster which has gotten us success on the scoreboard.”
Despite the 1-3 record, this improvement has already been evident. The Cougars lost by just one to the tournament champion, the University of Calgary, and held all three teams they played against to just three goals. Additionally, while their goals against average from the tournament of 2.0 was slightly worse than the 2018 regular season, their offence has shown strong signs of improvement. At the Great Plains Challenge the team averaged 1.25 goals per game, a huge improvement from their 2018 regular season average of 0.64. Coach McCaffrey also sees this improvement in the offensive side of their game.
“Over the course of the Great Plains Challenge, we saw very positive signs of the team’s ability to build up play effectively, increased ability to adjust to opposing pressure by effective ball circulation. We were able to generate lots of quality scoring opportunities throughout the games.”
Fifth–year Kristen Finley also attributes some of this offensive improvement to a strategic change.
“This year, our formation has changed from four defenders in our back line to three defenders. This is something new and I feel like we were really able to hold our own against great teams.”
The team will need to continue to improve in order to make it into Canada West playoff competition, which is the team’s ultimate goal after losing the play-in to MacEwan in 2018. This is a goal Coach McCaffrey thinks is possible.
“We have set several goals for our team over the course of the 2019-20 campaign, the first of which is being in a position to play the first round of playoffs.”
The way they will do this is by continuing to improve their offensive threat. Something coach McCaffrey thinks that a strong push from a motivated group of rookies can improve.
“Given the spirit within the squad, high standards of performance in training, and positive attack-minded play demonstrated in pre-season matches, we are confident in our ability to produce multiple winning performances this season.”
For Finley, as a fifth–year, her part in the team’s success is clear.
“My personal goal is to leave it all on the field. This is my last opportunity to showcase myself as a collegiate athlete and I want to make the best of the time I have left with my amazing team.”
The team will open their regular season on Sept. 6 against Winnipeg, who they lost to 0- at the Great Plains Challenge.