Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The timing couldn't be any better.
Speedy fourth-year striker Salma Kamel is back to 100 per cent after an injury recovery and is scoring again for the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team.
Considering she has two goals and three points in three career games against cross-town rival Alberta – MacEwan's opponent in a pair of matches this weekend – her return comes at a perfect time.
"Something about it," she said about the rivalry. "Maybe it's because I played on Junior Pandas and I was originally set to go to U of A. I don't know if that's what it is, but every game we play against them, I tend to have a good game.
"Everyone gets up for the hype. They're always great games. I think you just rise to the level that you're playing against and they're a good team."
The level will be as high as it gets for a regular season match, considering the 6-1-2 Griffins and the 5-1-3 Pandas will be vying for first place in the Canada West Prairie Division. They'll meet on Saturday (2 p.m., Foote Field) and Sunday (12 p.m., Clarke Stadium, both games Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
"There's a lot at stake this weekend, so those matches will have huge ramifications who comes in first, second or third, depending on what happens with some of the other teams because Saskatchewan and Manitoba are still in the mix, too," noted MacEwan head coach Dean Cordeiro of the 5-2-3 Huskies and 4-5-1 Bisons. "Being able to secure some points this weekend would pave the way for a host spot in the quarter-finals, which is really important."
Not to look too far ahead of the task at hand, but the highest remaining Prairie seed after the quarters will host the Canada West Final Four.
Kamel scored MacEwan's only goal against the Pandas the last time they met in a Canada West regular season or playoff game – Alberta's 2-1 quarter-final win last fall.
But she remembers her first tally even more vividly. MacEwan beat Alberta 3-0 in the final game of the 2016 regular season and Kamel, then a rookie, netted the first two points of her university career.
"I got a goal and an assist, and I'll never forget it," she said. "I got a ball from Mia (Fornelius, former Griffin). They were all pushed over, and I was by myself. I was screaming for the ball. I think I took one touch and put it into the net. I'll never forget that one."
Salma Kamel tied for the Griffins' scoring lead in 2018. After an injury kept her out of the lineup early in the season, she's back to full health and scoring again for MacEwan (Chris Piggott photo).
Kamel kept earning more minutes after that, culminating in the best season of her Canada West career in 2018 when she tied for the Griffins' scoring lead with four goals and seven points in 13 games. The production was directly tied to settling into the level, which took longer than she initially thought it would.
"The jump from club soccer to university soccer is huge," she explained. "Some people can come in and adjust easily, but for me it was a little harder. I was smaller in my first year, so that was a factor, but also, I felt like there was a lot of pressure to perform. Some games I'd play well, but others I'd be, 'I'm not scoring, I'm not scoring.' I was so used to scoring all these goals in youth and club. But once you get that first goal, it's a monkey off your back.
"I think I kind of figured it out after my second year. My third year was my best year last year. You just realize you need to breathe and play soccer."
Kamel's speed consistently gives opposing defences trouble and when she's 100 per cent physically and mentally, look out.
"Salma's a game-changer and at any point in time she can make things happen," said Cordeiro. "We saw that on full display over the weekend. She scored a couple of goals against Winnipeg and was dynamic the following day against Manitoba as well.
"It's absolutely massive to have her back and have her be her explosive self. If you don't know Salma, she's obviously a very pacey player who causes problems. When you're not at 100 per cent and you can't go full out, it definitely changes the way she plays. It's nice to see her out there as her regular self and being able to contribute to the team. She's going to be ready and will be motivated this weekend."