The Dalhousie women’s soccer team has been getting stronger for many seasons now, but this is the year the players are turning their hopes into expectations.
Coming out of the preseason, the Tigers finished with a record of two wins, one loss and one tie (2-1-1), with both wins coming in their last two games.
“We look good,” said Morgan Leon, one of the team’s three captains. “I think this whole entire camp has been a learning experience and I’m really happy we got those wins because we’re on the highs of the highs going into this season.”
The Tigers finished second in the league last season and went undefeated with a record of (8-0-4) until meeting the Cape Breton University Capers in the finals.
“I know we were extremely proud to be in that place but I definitely think we expected or thought we deserved to win,” said Megan Chiasson, a Tigers midfielder. “It was very sad after that game, we were all disappointed, but it’s just another chance to grow.”
After not making the finals for 10 years straight, the Tigers went into the game against CBU with a young and relatively inexperienced lineup who didn’t know what to expect.
“CBU is a great team and they’ve had a lot of experience in the finals,” said Leon. “They are a winning team, so having that in the back of people’s heads was a little bit of a blocking point.”
Chiasson felt similarly, citing how the team had what she believes to be one of their most confident games against CBU just two weeks prior to the final.
“I don’t think we played badly but I don’t think we played up to our standard or with as much confidence as we usually do,” she said.
Hannah Firstbrook, a Tigers defender, echoed a similar statement about the final getting in the team’s heads. “When we went into the semifinal, we treated it like every other game that season and we grinded it out to the very end for a win. Going into the final, it felt a little different.”
The nerves got to the Tigers and they were unable to get a shot on goal against their opponents all game, while CBU had six against Tigers keeper Annabel Gravely. The final score was 1-0 for the Capers.
Despite last year’s loss, the team is more confident in their abilities than ever and think their finals experience will be what pushes them to the top this year.
“We’re definitely an older team now,” said Leon. “The old first-years got a lot of playing time last year, so now they’re second-years with a real year under their belts.”
Chiasson also mentioned a shift in mentality that’s coming with the new confidence and experience this season.
“I know, especially the fourth-years, we want to win,” she said. “We’ve always had the belief, even when we were rookies, but now it’s more a universal thing within the group. We want to win, we expect it.”
It’s not just the Tigers who have a newfound confidence in themselves, other teams are recognizing their talent as well.
“The other teams are a lot more defensive,” said Leon. “A lot of teams are dropping back or not pressing as high because they know we’re fast. It feels like when we go out on the field now, we know we’re good and they know we’re good too.”
Leon has noticed a difference in the team’s comfortability with each other between the start of the preseason and now.
“I think this group of girls are all on the same page,” she said. “We all want to see each other succeed on and off the field.”
Leon said that even the team’s rookies are playing with a team first mentality, supporting and encouraging their new teammates. She was extremely proud of rookie defender Nikolina Miskovic for cheering on keeper Mira Blakely ahead of a penalty kick in their preseason game against Acadia University.
Firstbrook is also proud of her teammates but specifically the more experienced players who are leading the team.
“Our coaches always tell us to leave the program in a better place than we found it,” said Firstbrook. “As my time as a Tiger comes to an end, I look back and I can’t be prouder of how well we’ve grown as a program, a team and as individuals.”
The Tigers are focused on getting back to the finals this year and playing for their spot in the 2023 U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championship.
Leon closed off her thoughts on the upcoming season with confidence, saying, “next time you guys see us, it’ll be with a white cap on, a white AUS championship title cap.”