Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
-With files from Trinity Western Athletics
LANGLEY, B.C. – It's uncanny the way things come full circle some times.
Five years to the day, on the very same field that they lost a heartbreaker to Saskatchewan and were denied a berth at the U SPORTS nationals, the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team reversed the narrative, slayed the dragon and made history with a 2-0 win over the Huskies that punched their ticket to the championship for the first time.
"We're overjoyed," said head coach Dean Cordeiro of Saturday night's victory that also earned them the Canada West bronze medal. "We know how much work this team has put in on this journey that started many years ago.
"I'm just so happy and really at a loss for words. I'm just so proud of this team. They worked so hard to get to where we are today. We deserve it and the girls responded today like I knew they would."
It's the fifth time in the past seven years the Griffins have been a win away from advancing to nationals, but they weren't going to be denied this time.
"I'm speechless," said captain Samantha Gouveia, who was a rookie in 2016 when the Griffins lost 1-0 to the Huskies in the Canada West bronze match, also hosted by Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. "Our five seniors, we came back for this moment and we came back to the same field we were on our first year.
"We knew we weren't going to make any mistakes this time. We wanted to create history. I think we just wanted to make sure we played harder than we did yesterday and fixed all our wrongs from the past. We just came together as a team. Our passion and heart that we left on the pitch shone through today."
And for all the heartbreak Griffins veterans have gone through over the years – including losing to Calgary in a scoreless 2019 semifinal on penalty kicks – it was two fresh-faced rookies who made the difference on Saturday.
In the 59th minute, Grace Mwasalla beautifully controlled a lofted pass at half, neatly kicked it out to Nicole Brodeur, who dribbled past a charging Jaidyn Steinhauer. With nothing but net to shoot at, Brodeur sent the ball towards the net as it narrowly made it past the goal-line before a Saskatchewan defender could make a valid clearance.
It was the game-winner off the boot of a half-time sub.
Cordeiro just had a feeling that Brodeur would end up making a difference in the match.
"Funny story, I told Nikki earlier today 'you're going to score. We're going to need you,' " he said. "And sure enough, she goes in at half-time and gave us the spark we needed.
"She turned the corner and just clipped it over the keeper. It was just a hell of a finish and it really kick-started things."
Mwasalla made it 2-0 in the 61st minute when she ran up the right side, overwhelmed the Saskatchewan defence and slotted it far corner.
With a legitimate shot at securing a berth to the U SPORTS Championships in Sydney, N.S. in hand, MacEwan's bench erupted with cheers as Mwasalla ran to her team's bench to join in the festivities.
"Grace Mwasalla, a goal and assist out there – just different class," said Cordeiro, who picked the rookie as the team's game MVP. "Poise beyond her years. A first year playing like a fifth year. Every game gets better and better. She brings so much energy. What a player, what a performance today by her."
After closing out the win, the Griffins received a special piece of hardware – bronze medals, the first program has won of any colour since joining Canada West in 2014 – to commemorate a moment that will live in program history forever.
"We play, in my opinion, in the strongest conference in the country," said Cordeiro, whose team lost 2-0 to UBC in the semifinals on Friday. "And it's hard. There are no gifts. If you want something, you've got to go take it. And that's what I told the team, that was the message today. Yesterday, we had a hell of a game, but we didn't take it and a team like UBC, the reigning national champs aren't going to give it to you.
"We went out there today and we took it and we earned it. We've had a great season and we made that next step. That was the big thing we wanted to do for our program. The girls did it today. I'm so proud of them. I love every player, the staff, everybody's contributed to this special moment."
So, it's off to nationals for the Griffins, which are set for Nov. 18-21 in Sydney, N.S., hosted by Cape Breton, N.S.
"The future of this team … we've got our one goal done right now," said Gouveia. "We're heading to Cape Breton and now it's time to change the colour of our medal. We're looking to get that gold.
"We are so, so capable of making it to the final show and securing the gold medal that we all deserve."