This weekend is an important one for the Dalhousie soccer teams.
With two games remaining in the regular season, both teams have a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
The top six teams in the 10 team league qualify for playoffs which are held from November 2-5 at Cape Breton for the men and StFX for the women.
The men’s team has a record of 4-2-2 and is sitting in fifth place, while the women’s team is 6-3-1 and is in third. Both teams face Cape Breton, who’s first in both leagues, and UPEI for their final two matches. Right now, that’s what they’re focused on.
“We have some really difficult games coming up, so playoffs isn’t really in our mindset right now,” said men’s team Captain Jonathan Doucett.
Part of that mindset is taking each game seriously.
“Every game for us right now is a playoff game because it’s really tight to get into playoffs, so we’re just taking it one game at a time,” said women’s Head Coach Cindy Tye.
In the women’s league, Cape Breton has clinched first place, but the race for playoffs remains tight-the next six teams are separated by only four points.”I think we’re in a good position to compete with any team in the league,” said Tye. “If we keep building towards that hopefully we’ll put ourselves in the position to be in playoffs and compete for that title.”
They’ve come a long way in the past couple years. In the 2015-2016 season, the women’s team failed to qualify for playoffs. Last year, they were eliminated in the quarterfinals, and they’ve grown from that experience.
“I think it’s a great experience, a confidence builder,” said Tye, who’s in her second year with the Tigers.
“There’s definitely a huge difference compared to last year,” said women’s team Captain Amanda Bowles. “This year we’re more set in our set up during practices, games, and the way that Cindy coaches. Our confidence level this year is a lot higher because we have [more] wins behind us.”
Since playoffs last year, when they too were eliminated in quarterfinals, the men’s team has lost six players, including three of their starting defenders.
“We’ve been learning the strengths and weaknesses of the new players and combining that with the returning players,” said Head Coach Pat Nearing. “We’ve done a pretty good job of gelling and the team chemistry is strong.”
And they want to win an AUS Championship. “Everybody’s all in. All the guys wanna win, I wanna win, we’re willing to do the hard work and if we can make things happen for ourselves, we will win,” Nearing said.
If they qualify for playoffs, a solid defensive effort will be their greatest asset. In ten regular season games, they’ve played effectively contained their opponents and have allowed more than one goal in only two contests.
Similarly, the women’s team is strongest in their own end and are second in the league for goals against. “We’ve done a good job on the defending side … being able to possess the ball, keep the ball, [and] make good decisions going forward,” said Tye.
A big part of that has been the outstanding play of rookie keeper Kate Fines, who in ten regular season games has allowed only five goals.
While solid defending is key to success, both teams recognize that that’s not all it will take to compete for the AUS Championship.
“We need to score goals to make sure we win the games and get the points,” said Bowles, her team has lost 1-0 three times. “Working together as a unit and then moving forward is what we’ve been working on.”
Likewise, the men’s team could be a lot stronger offensively, they are seventh in the league in goals for per game. “Sometimes we have fantastic goal scoring and other times we’re struggling to score,” said Nearing. “We have to get a little bit more consistent at putting the ball in the net.”
It’s an area they’ve struggled with all season. Three of their four losses were decided by a single goal.
Their most recent game against StFX, who’s clinched 2nd place in the league, was a 1-0 loss where the only goal was a penalty shot in the last five minutes of the game.
“It’s always hard to win away in this league, but I think those kind of experiences can go a long way to prepare especially the younger players for what’s to come,” said Nearing.
Building that mental strength is important especially for the playoffs, where one loss means elimination.
“I don’t think we’ve been at our very best mentally in the last few games,” said Doucett. “We’ve been a little negative at times with each other and I think that we can definitely improve on that. That’s especially important in playoffs, where if you lose you’re out, so it’s really important that you stay positive throughout the entire 90 minutes.”