Despite general problems capitalizing on scoring chances over the course of the regular season, in the soccer Pandas’ final two games against the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba the team’s offensive attack is primed for their quarterfinal playoff matchup against the UBC Thunderbirds.
The Pandas and T-Birds faced each other earlier in the season, but the teams’ inability to finish their offensive chances resulted in a scoreless draw. This has been a trend for the Pandas this season, now leading in the CanWest with 268 shots this season but remain fourth in goals scored.
“All week we focused and spent a lot of time on finishing — that was a big thing to get our repetitions in there,” Pandas head coach Liz Jepsen said. “Going into the game on Saturday, I had a quick conversation with Stan Marple, GM of Bears hockey, and he was talking about the Bears not finishing in whatever capacity they’d like to, and he had mentioned really focusing on not hitting the goalie front and centre but getting in more dangerous zones, and that’s another thing we reviewed with Pandas soccer.
“That was helpful too, hitting for side netting as opposed to hitting the target of the keeper.”
One of the reasons for this seemingly improved scoring attack since their last meeting is the return of fifth-year starters Darcie Kutryk and Amanda Black, who were out with injuries the last time the Pandas faced UBC.
“The team performed well, but not having those two senior players made it more difficult to finish. We didn’t have the attacking power; we were half a step off,” Jepsen said. “We’ll just be that much more dangerous in the attack. We’ll have (Black) and (Kutryk) but also the other players that have helped through that first experience and contributed during that first experience.”
Backing up their renewed offensive attack has been a solid defensive presence led by goalkeeper Kelti Biggs. The Pandas keeper is third in the CanWest in goals against average and save percentage and second in shutouts. Jepsen also praised the play of second-year defender Victoria Saccomani, whose unsung defensive presence has allowed the rest of the team to thrive in offence.
The Thunderbirds, however, can respond with forward Janine Frazao, who was named league MVP last season and is currently tied with the Pandas’ Kayla Michaels for second in the CanWest in scoring with 17 points. With a record of 8-2-2, UBC has proven to be a formidable opponent this season no matter who they face, but the Pandas aren’t fazed by this challenge.
“We like playing UBC; we respect that they’re one of the best teams in the conference. Bottom line if you ask any Pandas soccer player: they want to play true competition,” Jepsen said. “It’s just a lot more fun to play high intensity games … We’re just here to play and play our best game, and whatever opponent comes our way, we’ll tackle that battle.”
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