Soccer Lions’ national championship hopes fall just short

For the first time this season, the York Lions women’s soccer team allowed more than one goal in a game. Unfortunately, the rare defensive problems came in the most important game of the season, the national championship final played Sunday.

The Lions’ bid for the school’s first national title in any sport since 1990 ended as York lost, 2-1, to the host Cape Breton Capers in the final of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) women’s soccer championship before a sell-out crowd of more than 1,500 in Cape Breton, NS.

Meanwhile, on Canada’s other coast, the men’s soccer Lions lost their bid for a bronze medal at the national finals, losing, 4-1, to the Western Mustangs Sunday in Vancouver. The loss came after a disappointing 2-1 defeat Saturday in overtime against the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in the semi-final.

“They came on set plays and we haven’t given up anything on those all year,” said Paul James, women’s Lions head coach, after the gold medal game. “It just wasn’t a good day for us. At the end of the day, Cape Breton played well. But I’m very proud of our players.”

The Capers were up 2-0 before the game was 20 minutes old, getting a goal from Nicole Stewart and then doubling their lead on a Lions own goal. York’s Nicole Burling made it interesting by scoring with nine minutes left, but the Lions could not net the equalizer, giving Cape Breton its first national title in any sport.

York (18-2), making its third consecutive appearance at the nationals, posted its best women’s soccer finish in school history. It was the best finish by a Lions team in any sport since 1997 when York’s women’s basketball team placed second at the nationals.

“We played two overtimes (Saturday in a 1-0 win over the Victoria Vikes in penalty kicks) and there was very little time to recover, so it was tough for us,” James said. “But what this proves is that we are making progress. Two years ago, we finished seventh, last year we finished fourth and now we’re second. We have closed the gap and that is obvious to all the coaches. We finished 18-2 and that’s one of the best records in CIS history.”

The Capers snapped the Lions’ 11-game winning streak. Burling was joined by teammates Stefania Morra and Alicia Brown on the tournament all-star team.

A little more than 12 hours after a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss in Vancouver, the York men’s Lions had the unenviable task of trying to get motivated to play in a bronze-medal game at the CIS men’s soccer national championship

It turned out to be easier said than done, as York looked flat in the loss against Western.

“No excuses,” Lions first-year head coach Carmine Isacco said. “We have to learn how to take care of some of the little things. Of course, I’m proud of them. If we would have scored a couple of more goals at the tournament, we would have been alright.

“But the expectations are high here. We can’t accept a semi-final loss, we can’t accept mediocrity and we can’t accept almost (winning). We had our chance. Now, we have to keep building from this.”

The Lions (15-2-2), who beat the Mustangs in the OUA championship en route to making their first appearance at the nationals since 1997, played what was easily their worst game of the season in the bronze-medal match, looking a step slow the entire day.

The Mustangs had a 2-0 lead at halftime and then made it 3-0 five minutes into the second half. Jeffrey Da Cruz (Barrie) closed the gap to 3-1 at the 80-minute mark, but Daniel Ramos beat Lions backup goalie Pablo Alvardo (Mississauga) in injury time to restore the three-goal edge. Michel Daoust and Mike Shawchuk also scored for the Mustangs.

The good news for the Lions is that all of their players are eligible to return next season.

“It was a good season,” Lions defender Franco Ruscetta said. “The guys did really well (this season), but it was a tough way to finish.”

Submitted to YFile by Mike Koreen, sport & recreation information officer in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health.