Buoyed with confidence after first Canada West goal, Riddle leads Griffins into home opener

Sarah Riddle, right, seen during a game last season, is playing meaningful minutes at the fullback position for the Griffins in 2018 (Chris Piggott photo).
Sarah Riddle, right, seen during a game last season, is playing meaningful minutes at the fullback position for the Griffins in 2018 (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The play is certainly something Sarah Riddle will remember long after her university soccer career is over.

Her first Canada West regular season goal.

While the tally may have come in her fourth season with the Griffins, it couldn't have been more heroic or memorable. Riddle's late-game strike to the top corner last Saturday delivered a 2-1 win for MacEwan over Thompson Rivers University.

"In your fourth year, you kind of hope you get a goal sooner, but I wouldn't have changed the way it happened at all," she said. "It was just at the end of the game we needed that push and I took my chance on a shot I wouldn't normally take, and it happened.

"It was pretty exciting."

Riddle will lead the Griffins (1-1-0) into their first two home games of the 2018-19 Canada West season this weekend – Friday (6 p.m.) vs. Saskatchewan (0-0-2) and Sunday (12 p.m.) vs. Regina (1-1-0). Both games are at Clarke Stadium.

Originally recruited to MacEwan as a forward, Riddle had an opportunity for playing time as a fullback, so she quickly learned the nuances of a new position and now plays key minutes for the Griffins.

"She just took a stranglehold on that position and has been fantastic ever since," said Griffins head coach Dean Cordeiro. "We try to be really offensive-minded and we try to release our fullbacks quite a bit. And Sarah just fits that quite nicely.

"With her 1 v 1 defensive abilities – she's a rock back there – and her ability to get forward and contribute, how to make those runs and when to go. Her timing and execution is on point. We saw that on Saturday when we needed it most."

Now that she has a goal under her belt (and an assist in the same game), Riddle is feeling more confident in her offensive abilities on the pitch.

"It definitely gives you the confidence to shoot more and just the mindset that maybe this will happen more often if I trust myself to take those shots instead of always passing off or driving down the line," the Edmonton product said.

Riddle also grew up playing water polo, golf, volleyball, basketball and track, but soccer became her sport of choice and it's clear she made a good one. Her older sister stuck with the water polo route and was a four-year starting goalkeeper in NCAA Div. 1 play for Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y.

Her cousins are Chris and Daniel Wray, who both recently wrapped up playing careers for the Griffins men's hockey team.

For Riddle, soccer is her calling, though, and she aims to keep the Griffins pushing towards their goal of qualifying for nationals this season. The squad will need a rebound after suffering a shocking 1-0 upset to UBCO – a non-playoff team from a year ago – their last time out.

"We have to work some kinks out," acknowledge Cordeiro. "We've been doing a lot of good things. We want to see ourselves get rewarded now for doing a lot of good things in and around goal. It's just a matter of time. I didn't think we had the best of luck this past weekend and credit the opponents – they did what they needed to do and came up with a good game plan."

MacEwan badly outplayed UBCO, but they just couldn't put the ball in the net.

"I think everybody is trying so hard and, as a coach, you can't fault them for that," said Cordeiro. "They're trying to make their mark early in the season and are jockeying for position. I think it's just one of those things that we've just got to take a deep breath and trust our instincts.

"For us, it's just a matter of keep getting to the net. Half the battle is to just get those opportunities. Now we've got to execute on a few more of them and we'll be fine."

Friday will mark the Griffins' first regular season game in their new home at Clarke Stadium, so it will be a special moment for the players.

"We're pretty excited," said Riddle. "This is the first time we've had our own space, our own dressing room. We have some special stuff getting set up for our first game.

"We're all going to have our own little cubby area, so it will definitely change the approach to the game. It will be more of a university experience. I think it will help us."