BIBLE HILL, N.S.
The Dal-AC Rams will dive into the deep end of the pool when they start the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association women’s soccer championships on Wednesday.
In a tournament that forces teams to run the table if they want to grab championship hardware, the No. 8-seeded Rams have a first-round match against three-time reigning national champion and No. 1-ranked Elans de Garneau of Quebec.
“It’s like David and Goliath,” said Rams fifth-year coach Jackie-Fitt Ryan.
“But anything can happen – upsets have happened before.”
The teams meet at 5:30 p.m. at the Mainland Common field in Halifax.
“We’re going in ready to give it our best shot and enjoy the experience, embrace the moment. But for sure, we have a challenge ahead of us.”
The Rams were the class of the Atlantic conference (8-1-3) and for the first time in 11 years they returned to the playoffs. Fitt-Ryan has two assistant coaches from Pictou County – Josh MacKinnon and Melanie Hill – and three of her players hail from this side of Mount Thom: Katie Walsh, Veronica Deno and Kaileigh Langille.
Walsh is a recent graduate of StFX University and competed at the CIS soccer championship a year ago with the X-Women.
“I’m excited and grateful that I have another chance to play at a national tournament,” said Walsh, a first-team conference All-Star (Deno was a second-team All-Star this season).
At the conference championship tournament two weeks ago in Saint John, N.B., Dal AC lost a semifinal game 1-0 to the Kings Blue Devils on penalty kicks – 13 of them, for each team.
To prepare for their opener, the Rams have watched game film on Garneau. Fitt-Ryan said there are certain adjustments her team will need to make, including formation changes and getting players in the right spots to be successful against a formidable opponent.
“We have to stay organized and we have to trust in each other and we need to make sure everyone is pulling their weight all around the field because when you play a team that’s as good as Garneau, it’s not going to be individual efforts; it’s going to be an entire team playing at their best,” she added.
The ACAA-champion St. Thomas Tommies will meet the Grande Prairie Wolves of Alberta today at 10 a.m.
Other first-round matchups are: Algonquin (Ontario) vs. Saint Lambert (Quebec), 12:30 p.m., and Douglas (B.C.) vs. NAIT (Alberta), 3 p.m.
Semifinals will be played Thursday. The bronze-medal game is Saturday at 3 p.m., followed by the gold-medal match at 5:30 p.m
Old friends, now soccer rivals
Sometime during the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association national women’s soccer championship, Dal-AC Rams head coach Jackie Fitt-Ryan might find herself directly across the field from her longtime friend Amy Hughes (formerly Whytewood).
The two stood for each other at their respective weddings, and were members of the Nova Scotia Division 3 champion Stellarton High School Warriors back in 1997. Hughes is an assistant coach with the St. Thomas University soccer program, which will also be playing at nationals and are seeded seventh after they captured the ACAA crown.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” said Hughes.
In 1999, Hughes was in her freshman year at STU when they competed and finished fifth at nationals.
She works as a nurse and has two daughters (a seven-year-old, and a four-month-old) with her husband Cyril.
“I’m hoping we can compete,” says Hughes, asked about STU’s chances at nationals.
“Sometimes, there’s a big difference between Ontario, Quebec and the western teams, compared to the Atlantic schools. So, it can be a bit difficult.”