Competing in the Final Four this past week, the UBC Thunderbirds (13–1) earned Canada West’s (CW) silver medal, losing the conference title to the Trinity Western Spartans (9–2–3) in a 6–5 penalty shootout at Thunderbird Stadium. While second place is far from embarrassing, it was surprising for the defending champions who dominated the conference throughout the regular season.
The ‘Birds bid to defend their title began Thursday evening, with a promising 3–1 win over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies (10–3–1) in the semi-final round. The Huskies put up a fight, managing the first goal scored against UBC in over a month, but the ‘Birds remained in control for the remainder of the game.
Still, head coach Jesse Symons was critical of his team. “I felt there were some nerves today. And I think we need to have a little more movement and a little more personality, to want the ball and keep it,” he said.
The following night, UBC faced off against Trinity Western in the CW conference finals for the third consecutive year. The ‘Birds triumphed last year and in their regular season match-up with the Spartans—but Friday night had a different outcome.
The collision between these two powerhouses was explosive from the get-go, warranting a total of 28 foul calls, 6 of which occurred in the first 15 minutes of the game, and 3 yellow cards.
Forward Nisa Reehal nearly nabbed an early lead for the ‘Birds in the fifth minute, but her shot sped just right of the goal. The teams soon settled into an aggressive back-and-forth, each racking up 15 credited shots, but struggled to overcome their opponent’s stellar defence or goalkeeping.
The Spartans had a close shot off a free kick just before half, but it missed the net and the Spartans failed to capitalize on a subsequent corner kick, ending their most dangerous sequence of the half.
In the second half, UBC forward Katalin Tolnai came close to breaking the deadlock with a good-looking curler that ultimately bounced off the crossbar. The scoring drought dragged on and the championship headed into overtime.
The first overtime period passed uneventfully, with only one shot on goal by each team. UBC picked up the intensity in double-overtime, playing almost desperately as heavy rain poured.
In a crucial ‘could’ve been’ moment, Spartan goalkeeper Hannah Miller was drawn far outside her goal to charge a long pass intended for Reehal. Reehal beat Miller to the ball, tapping outside to her left before firing a shot, but it was cleared by a defender. The scoreless game eventually resorted to a penalty shootout.
Trinity’s Olivia Kranjcec began the shootout, scoring despite the wet turf and tension at Thunderbird. Tolnai followed, putting the ball in the far right of the goal. Both teams succeeded on their next four shots, tying the shootout at 5–5.
Now in sudden death, Trinity’s sixth kicker aimed right; Beckett got a hand on the ball, but couldn’t make the save.
The conference title, the culmination of an entire season, rested on a single shot by UBC midfielder Janika Sangha. With everything on the line, Sangha stepped up, aimed far right — and the ball bounced off the goalpost.
While the T-Birds were disappointed with the result, they still have a shot at a bigger title. UBC and Trinity Western both advance to nationals, with the ‘Birds earning the seventh seed in the U Sports Championship.
The 'Birds now look ahead to Kingston, Ontario, where they will face the second-seeded University of Ottawa Gee-Gees on November 9, in the quarter-final round of the tournament.