Mwasalla's magnificent winner on the final play gives Griffins thrilling 3-2 win over Cougars

Grace Mwasalla leaps into the arms of Alyx Henderson after scoring the game-winner in extra time (Joel Kingston photo).
Grace Mwasalla leaps into the arms of Alyx Henderson after scoring the game-winner in extra time (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Among the many clutch goals Grace Mwasalla has scored for the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team, this one ranks right up there.

Sent in alone on the last play before the final whistle, she chipped the ball over keeper Kareena Andersen to give MacEwan a 3-2 win over the upstart Regina Cougars on the opening day of the Canada West season.

Mwasalla started celebrating even before the ball bounded across the line, leaping into the arms of teammate Alyx Henderson, highlighting how emotional the moment was for the Griffins, who escaped settling for a tie in what would have been a big upset.

"Big-time players show up in big games," said Griffins head coach Dean Cordeiro of Mwasalla, who led Canada West with 15 goals last season. "Grace Mwasalla, that's just why she is who she is. She came up clutch. What a goal and what a ball by Abbey Wright back there. 

"It was a truly special moment and a great way to kick off the season."

The tally was Mwasalla's 21st career Canada West regular season goal, making her the new program leader, breaking a tie at the top she shared with Meagan Lemoine.

"We're a gritty team," said the Calgary Blizzard product, who was named to both the U SPORTS and Canada West first all-star teams last season. "We never give up. We were  down one and we tied it. Then we went up and they tied it again. But we never give up. It was 90 minutes. 

"We were four minutes into stoppage time and we got that game-winning goal. That was important for us because we never give up. We fight to the end."

It's a character-building victory for the Griffins, who nearly had to settle for a tie against a Regina team they were supposed to beat. MacEwan was ranked third in the conference's preseason coaches poll to Regina's 14th and had beaten the Cougars 5-0 on this same field last October.

But it was the Cougars who struck first in the 6th minute. Some confusion on a pass in the Griffins' own half led to a turnover that Regina's Lennox Lockhurst jumped on and sent a cracker over Toni Gill's head and in from just outside the box.

Gill suffered an injury on a 27th-minute collision in the box and was forced to leave the game, giving way for rookie Sabrina Alexander to make her debut.

After spending most of the first half pressing for the equalizer, the Griffins finally got it when Henderson burst past a defender on the right wing and beat Andersen from a sharp angle into the side netting in the 45thminute.

"Full credit to Regina," said Cordeiro. "First game's always tricky. You don't have a lot of film on every team. They came well prepared and came in with a plan. You don't want to concede early. We did. We fought back right before half-time and created a lot of chances and were probably unfortunate not to be up or score another one or two."

Alyx Henderson scored the Griffins' first goal of the season from a sharp angle late in the first half (Joel Kingston photo).

When Hanna Supina put in a rebound off Mwasalla's initial shot in the 51st minute, it seemed the Griffins were finally on their way. But they never could get the insurance marker, despite multiple chances, including when Mariah Arnott put Mwasalla's brilliant 80th-minute cross just wide from 10 feet out.

The Cougars wouldn't go away, either, consistently building more possession as the second half wore on. 

In the 86th minute, it was Lockhurst again, stunning the home crowd when her offering deflected off a defender and past charging keeper Alexander before bouncing in just out of the reach of Wright's attempt to volley it off the line.

But Mwasalla and the Griffins wouldn't be denied.

"It's our first game of the season," said Mwasalla. "It's important to get off to a good start. We know we didn't play our best and we're going to learn from it and we're going to bounce back tomorrow, but to start off the season with three points is important for us."

On Saturday, the Griffins will host Saskatchewan (12 p.m., Clarke Stadium, Canada West TV), while Regina visits Alberta across town at the same time.