Blazers Soccer Slide into Playoffs as Underdogs
The Blazers Athletics Soccer Teams finished up their MCAC regular season matches this past weekend, which included semi-finals previews on Saturday for the men's squad, and on Sunday for the women's squad. Both teams will be underdogs in their matches this coming weekend in Brandon going into the championship round as fourth seeds.
Saturday's trip to Brandon University produced a semi-final preview for the men's side, who will be kicking off the MCAC Final Fours almost exactly a week later on the same pitch at Brandon University's Healthy Living Centre. The game was on all accounts a very heated affair, despite the chilly October temperatures. The CMU side managed to take the 2-1 lead over the league-leading and defending champions Bobcats late in the first half off of goals from veterans Stan Pankiewicz and captain Matheus Dos Anjos Aquino. The tide shifted after the break however, with graduating Blazers keeper Zach Bartel shown off with a straight red card for a challenge just outside the 18-yard box, followed by second year defender Matthew Pahl, who was carded for some rough play after the whistle. Playing with only nine men the Blazers were not able to hold off the Bobcats attack for the final 20 or so minutes of play, and eventually took the 3-2 loss. The game was not without some merit however, as the green and gold clearly had a game-plan that capitalized on the Brandon side's weaknesses, giving a glimmer of hope for a first-round upset in the playoffs.
On the women's side, the CMU women had the opportunity to leapfrog the Bobcats into third place in the standings with a win, and out of a first-round meeting with the league-leading and defending champions St Boniface Rouges. Despite the big opportunity, the spotlight of being the CCAA's marquee matchup of the weekend appeared too bright for the Blazers as the visiting side came out flat, surrendering a quick lead to the Bobcats, who never looked back. CMU shored up its defensive woes in the second half, but it was too little too late, and the team eventually fell 4-0 at the final whistle.
Sunday's Senior Day event at the Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex marked the final home games for several graduating Blazer athletes, including Gode Katembo, Cedric Cotte, and Zach Bartel, who were all congratulated prior to the men's kickoff, while on the women's side Melissa Gilbert, Hannah Neufeldt, and Lindsey Knodel were all recognized for their service to the program prior to the women's game.
Without goalkeeper Zach Bartel and defender Matthew Pahl available for Sunday's match due to their one game red card suspensions, and with no chance to move up in the standings, the primary goal of the match was to get through without further cards or suspensions heading into the playoffs. The safe-style of play was evident as on several occasions Les Rouges strikers were able to get into the box untouched and put some quality chances on goalkeeper Dolapo Odaleye who was filling in for the suspended Bartel. Two goals in the first half with two added in the second half were more than enough for the St Boniface squad to take the win, as some stellar keeping kept the Blazers off the scoresheet.
The late match on Sunday turned out to be another MCAC semi-final preview only six days ahead of the game that really matters. Like the men, CMU played a very safe game, giving their graduating players plenty of time on the field, and rotating through positions to test out different strategies against the powerhouse St Boniface side. Though the Blazers showed a few flashes of brilliance, including some great play by second years Kasey Petruskavich and Kalyssa Wasylik the final touch was never there to test the Rouges last line of defence. In the end, the visitors got five balls past Blazers keeper Juliana Marucci and took the 5-0 win into playoff weekend.
The MCAC Final Fours begin with a men's matchup with the Brandon Bobcats at noon on Saturday at Brandon's home field at the Healthy Living Centre, where the Blazers will look to recapture some of the play that had them hold the lead for parts of the game this past Saturday. The Bobcats are coming off a loss to Providence this past Sunday, and are looking a bit more vulnerable heading into the playoff weekend. Sunday's men's final is set to kickoff at noon at the home of Assiniboine Community College at Brandon Sportsplex. The team that captures the MCAC crown will earn the right to represent Manitoba at the CCAA National Championships, held this year November 9-12 in Vancouver, BC hosted by Langara College.
The Blazer women will kickoff their postseason on Saturday against the St Boniface Rouges at 2:30 on neutral turf at the Brandon Sportsplex. The winners of Saturday's semi-finals will meet on Sunday at 2:30 at the Brandon Sportsplex for the chance to win the MCAC title, and to represent Manitoba at the CCAA Nationals hosted by Champlain St-Lambert College of Quebec's RSEQ confrerence, also held November 9-12.