“Connected and competitive,” are two words Cindy Tye, head coach of the Dalhousie Tigers women’s soccer team, would use to describe her team right now.
The Tigers sit in third place of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) soccer standings as of Oct. 6, three spots ahead of where they finished last season. They’re also the last undefeated club in the conference midway through the regular season, sporting a record of four wins, two draws and no losses.
The team has been on a hot streak since their season-opening game on Sept. 10, a 0-0 draw against the Mount Allison University Mounties. Dal’s most recent match to print time was a 2-1 victory over the defending conference champions, the Acadia University Axewomen.
Big preparation, big season
Since the season began right as the school year started, it’s a relief the team has connected so fast. Tye attributes that to a successful training camp.
“The team focused on different things throughout training camp, which included having seniors buddying up with incoming players, having small groups do things away from the field together, team meals and spending a night at a cottage together,” said Tye.
Annabel Gravely, the Tigers starting goalkeeper, has been a key part of the team’s mojo so far. In her fourth year at Dalhousie and third season playing for the Tigers, Gravely has kept the ball out of the net with consistent, terrific saves.
She’s quick to deflect credit.
“The team has been especially powerful this year in the strength and accountability we have for each other. A win isn’t just because of our awesome strikers, just as a loss is not solely the responsibility of the back line,” said Gravely.
One particularly good game for the keeper was the Tigers’ first meeting with the University of New Brunswick Reds, in which she made three saves in a 1-0 victory on Sept. 17.
“I was shutting down crosses and set pieces. [I was] very happy with my aggressiveness off the goal line,” said Gravely.
Unfortunately, Gravely fractured her finger in the next match the next day, but she said she’s proud of first-year keeper Emily Toth who stepped up to “play with confidence and composure these past few games.”
Another key player has been rookie Elise Evans, who scored her first goal as a Tiger during the team’s second game against UNB on Sept. 18.
“It felt great,” Evans said of her goal. “Everyone on the team is very hardworking and the overall culture is really motivating to be around. I was just super happy that I was able to contribute in some way, especially being on the road.”
When asked what the team’s biggest challenge was going to be this season, Tye said it’s keeping track of everything in a season that comes and goes so fast.
“It’s getting used to the balance of school and managing their schedule, which we think they have adjusted to very well so far,” Tye said. “Now it will be about continuing to get comfortable on and off the field to grow as a group.”
Challenging conference competition
Evans said the intensity in the AUS is higher and something she’s still getting used to.
“It’s a fun challenge more than anything and I’ve really been enjoying the faster speed of play. All the players on the team are super welcoming and [have] been a huge help in making the transition as smooth as possible,” said Evans.
“There is a lot of competition within the group, so it keeps things lively each week,” Tye said, unworried about any pressure to keep the team competitive and upstart each week.
In the Acadia game, the team conceded its first goal of the season. But Dal countered with another goal from Evans and one from midfielder Alyson Bodner to ultimately prevail. They picked up six points in one weekend, bumping themselves up just behind St. Francis Xavier University X-Women (StFX) in the standings.
The Tigers have yet to play StFX or the Cape Breton University Capers in the regular season, the two teams that pose the biggest threat to them right now. The Capers and X-Women occupy the top two spots in the standings as of Oct. 6.