Griffins clinch top spot in the Prairie Division with 2-1 win over Lethbridge

Griffins players celebrate Anneke Odinga's game-winning goal in the first half on Sunday (Lethbridge Sports photo).
Griffins players celebrate Anneke Odinga's game-winning goal in the first half on Sunday (Lethbridge Sports photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – Opponents surged up the standings towards them all season.

Injuries hit them hard. 

On Sunday, they faced gusts of wind that roared as high as 70 km/h, leading to the Pronghorns goalkeeper scoring a goal on them.

But at the end of the day, the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team overcame all of the adversity, gutting out a 2-1 triumph over Lethbridge to lock up first place in the Canada West Prairie Division for the third time in the past four years.

MacEwan's 10-2-2 record is the second best in the program's Canada West history.

"I'm proud of the team," said head coach Dean Cordeiro. "This league, this conference is so tough. It's a lot of effort and I'm just proud of the team and what they're able to accomplish. 

"We definitely wanted to secure top of the table. Our short-term goal has been achieved. Now we turn the page to bigger things ahead. We'll enjoy top of the table, but we'll need to get ourselves ready here for the quarter-final in a couple week's time."

The Griffins will host a quarter-final match on Oct. 28 against the winner of Victoria (8-4-2) and UFV (6-5-3), who will meet in a Play-In game this Saturday.

Against Lethbridge on Sunday, the Griffins had to hold off a game Pronghorns team playing for pride on their Senior Day as well as battle against a steady 40 km/h with gusts much higher.

Playing against the wind in the first half, they went up 1-0 on a goal in the 22nd minute when Grace Schimpf played a ball across the face of goal, it slipped through keeper Bridie Harding's hands and Alyx Henderson tapped it in back side.

But in a rare moment, Harding scored a goalkeeper goal, blasting a free kick from midfield that was aided by a wind gust and beat Bianca Castillo.

"There was nothing anyone could have done," said Cordeiro. "It was one of those once in a lifetime where the wind kicked in – it was a missile that just went top corner. You don't see that very often, but the winds were crazy."

But the Griffins kept pushing and were rewarded with what would stand up as the game-winning goal in the 37th minute when Anneke Odinga slotted a strike from the top of the box inside the left post.

"Goal 2 was a fantastic finish," said Cordeiro. "Maya Morrell unlocked the back line and laid it off to Anneke Odinga at the top of the box and she scored her first career goal. She slotted it off the post and in. It was a great ball, great placement, and it ended up being the match winner."

After that, it was a hard-played game featuring 28 fouls between the two squads and MacEwan ended up salting it away with strong defence, led by Game MVP Abbey Wright and rookie Emma Clark, who started the first game of her Canada West career.

"Emma Clark earned her first career start and played the whole 90 minutes," said Cordeiro. "She was unbelievable out there.

"Our player of the game was Abbey Wright, who was a brick wall back there – intercepting balls, winning every header," he added. "Her service out of the back was great. Her set pieces were fantastic."

Single season records were officially established on a few fronts:

• Goalkeeper Sabrina Alexander finished with eight wins, breaking the previous rookie record of five set by Emily Burns in 2015. 

• Alexander also broke four more of Burns' records from 2015 – best GAA by a rookie (0.63), best save percentage by a rookie (.813), most minutes played by a rookie (858:42) and longest shutout streak by a rookie (306:04).

Hannah Harper led the Griffins with 36 shots, which breaks the program's rookie record of  32, set by Raeghan McCarthy in 2017.

Grace Mwasalla's five game-winning goals tied the program record originally set by Suekiana Choucair in 2016.