After an almost two-year-long break from competition due to COVID-19, the Huskies women’s soccer team returned to action in early September with a pair of away games against the Winnipeg Wesmen, followed by a successful home stand against the Manitoba Bisons. Having earned 10 out of a possible 12 points in their first four fixtures, the Huskies are flourishing early in the season.
The year started off with an intense 0-0 draw against the Wesmen on Sept. 11, where both teams directed over 10 shots on goal but were unable to convert their scoring opportunities. The following morning, the Huskies were clinical with their finishing, managing four goals in a 4-0 victory against the Wesmen. Fifth-year Taneil Gay utilized her rapid pace to score twice on breakways, with second-year Jade Houmphanh and first-year Marie Kilcher netting their first Canada West career goals thanks to two assists from Maya Gabruch, a veteran forward and fifth-year student.
“It was so exciting. If you can’t tell by my celebration, I was just jumping up and down … It was just the best feeling ever,” said Kilcher regarding her first goal.
She added that scoring her first Canada West career goal was great for team morale.
“Scoring a goal is probably the best thing you can have when you are on the pitch,” said Kilcher. “The whole team gets so excited … it just builds confidence everywhere.”
The Huskies’ home opening weekend did not disappoint, with the team defeating the Bisons in consecutive games on Sept. 17 and 18. Both games were characterized by hot starts by the Huskies.
The team struck thrice in the first 35 minutes on Sept. 17, which was sufficient to hold off the Bisons’ two subsequent goals. Gay and Gabruch, mainstays in the Huskies’ offence, each recorded a goal in addition to an own goal by the Bisons.
In a similar fashion, two goals in the first twenty minutes propelled the Huskies to an early lead on Sept. 18, with two late goals in the last ten minutes ensuring their victory over the Bisons. Gay opened the scoring in the ninth minute off a through ball from Houmphanh, with McKenna Olson adding to the tally just 10 minutes later.
The team adopted a more defensive mindset in the second half of the game, conceding a free kick goal to Manitoba’s Jessica Tsai in the 61st minute. The game went back and forth with the Bisons applying pressure, but Huskies goalkeeper Jadyn Steinhauer made five of her six total saves in the second half to keep the Bisons at bay. The Huskies broke through late with swift counterattacks producing a pair of goals by Naleya Kobussen and Payton Izsak.
“It was wild … that’s the biggest home crowd I’ve been a part of,” said fifth-year forward Gabruch when asked about the role the home crowd played in the Huskies’ spirited starts to the home games. “The crowd was electric with fireworks out there and it just gave us all a lot of energy.”
One player who seems to be thriving off the crowd’s energy is Gay, who has been the standout player so far, earning Athlete of the Week honours for her performance in Winnipeg. With four goals in her first four games, Gay has already bested her goal tally from the 2019-20 season, and she will no doubt look to add more as the season plays out.
“She’s been killing it this season, and I only know she’s going to continue to do so. It’s so exciting to watch and even be on the field with her … Most of her other seasons, she’s been our assister, so now it’s super sweet seeing her step out into the spotlight,” said Gabruch, in regard to Gay’s scorching start to the season. “She’s super speedy, good with the ball at her feet, and can finish … she’s just got everything.”
The team is looking to build on their strong start by remaining focused on the task at hand each week.
“I think we are happy to be where we are right now, but every single practice we go to, every single game we are just focused on that … We obviously have that big goal of nationals in mind but we still gotta stay present,” said Gabruch, maintaining that the team is careful not to think too far ahead.
The team is in action again on Sept. 24 and Sept. 26, this time taking on the University of Regina Cougars twice, first for an evening game at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon, followed by an afternoon game in Regina.