Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – 'We Before Me' has been imprinted on their shirts and emblazoned in their mindset ever since the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team kicked off training camp in August.
As their guiding force, that mantra has led them to the best regular season record in program history (10-2-0) and back to their fifth Canada West Final Four in seven seasons.
"We trust everybody on this team and if we're going to be successful it will be because we're all working together," said head coach Dean Cordeiro, whose team knocked off UFV 2-0 in a quarter-final match last Saturday to advance. "That's been our motto this year – everybody's together and that certainly needs to be the case this weekend."
They're off to Chase Office Field at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. for a Canada West semifinal match against UBC (9-1-2) on Friday (8:30 p.m. MT, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
Win that game and not only do they qualify for the conference final on Saturday, they would punch their tickets to the U SPORTS national championship for the first time in program history.
"They're the reigning national champs, so it's going to take a complete performance – 90 minutes of us doing what we need to do, playing our game to get the job done," said Cordeiro, whose group didn't meet the Thunderbirds in the regular season under a regional schedule format.
"We look forward to the challenge and the team is ready."
Four previous times the Griffins have been on this step of the ladder, but that next rung has eluded them in the semifinals.
Most recently, they lost to eventual Canada West champion Calgary on penalty kicks in a scoreless 2019 semifinal match at Clarke Stadium.
Twelve players return from that team and will be motivated to turn their fortunes around, but Cordeiro was quick to point out, while lessons can be learned, the past is the past.
"Every year presents opportunities and a new group that you go on this journey with," he said. "We have a few players who have been here before. They know what it's about and I think we can really dig deep into their experience to help lead the way.
"We're up for it," he added. "I'm a big believer that you've got to lose before you can win and I feel like we've experienced that. We know what's ahead. We're excited for Friday. We're going to go out there and put our best foot forward."
Host Trinity Western (11-0-1) will meet Saskatchewan (7-2-3) in the other semifinal (5:30 p.m. MT).
The winners of both semifinals not only automatically qualify for the U SPORTS nationals, hosted by Cape Breton University in Sydney, N.S. Nov. 18-21, they will also meet in the Canada west championship game on Saturday in Langley, B.C. (8:30 p.m. MT).
But because UBC won the last U SPORTS title, Canada West gets three berths to nationals this year, so the winner of Saturday's bronze match between the two semifinal losers (5:30 p.m. MT) will also qualify.
Griffins players line up for their home opener against Alberta on Sept. 4. They're aiming for the first U SPORTS national championship berth in program history at the Canada West Final Four this weekend in Langley, B.C. (Chris Piggott photo).
The Griffins enter the championship weekend with incredible depth. A total of 13 players scored at least once for MacEwan in 12 regular season games, while 17 had at least one point. There is no one player for the opposition to key in on.
We Before Me.
"Being deep and using as many players as we have all year will really serve us well this weekend because it is going to be tough, on the second day in particular," said Cordeiro of what will be another game less than 24 hours after the first one. "And on the second day you might be playing for it all, so you've got to find ways.
"I think that's why we've tried to keep so many players involved, getting opportunities, so it's not new to them. A lot of players have played a good amount of time and they've shaken off some of the nervousness.
"Obviously, things get magnified when you play games of this magnitude, but for us, it's just another game," he added. "We're going to go out there and play our game. Like I've said from Day 1 this year, if we do that, we like our chances. It doesn't matter who we're up against. That's what we're going to focus on."