Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With the experience of playing in two Canada West semifinal matches in their hip pockets, the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team heads into the 2019 Final Four older and wiser, hungry and battle tested.
They'll need to draw on all their past experiences, their talent and their mettle as they hit the moment they've been building towards all season – a home semifinal match on Friday against the University of Calgary Dinos (12 p.m., Clarke Stadium, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
On the line to the winner is not only a chance to claim a conference championship in Saturday's final (3 p.m.) but an entry into the U SPORTS nationals Nov. 7-10 in Victoria, which goes to the two finalists this weekend.
"This whole year's been about making the most of the little time left with the team and last year, and every year before, we've always been disappointed at the end of the season," said fifth-year MacEwan defender Jamie Erickson – a Canada West first team all-star for two-straight seasons. "I'm hoping this year we can end it on a happy note instead."
MacEwan will host the entire weekend, which also features a semifinal between Trinity Western and UBC on Friday (3 p.m.), a bronze match on Saturday (12 p.m.) and a gold medal match also on Saturday (3 p.m., all at Clarke Stadium, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
"I think that's a major plus for us," said Griffins head coach Dean Cordeiro of hosting. "The bottom line is just being in your own bed and not travelling, there's a lot of pluses with that. I think we experienced that this past weekend hosting our Canada West quarter-final match.
"It's nice – definitely better than being on the road. It will be nice to have our fans and our support there."
The Griffins have made the Final Four twice before since joining Canada West in 2014 but have yet to get out of the semifinal. This is the first time they're hosting the soiree after finishing with the best regular season record in program history (9-2-3) that topped the Prairie Division.
MacEwan is not only searching for its first Canada West championship, the program is gunning for its first U SPORTS championship berth.
The Griffins have twice before come within a goal of reaching that rung – in 2016, they lost 1-0 to Saskatchewan in the bronze medal match in a year three Canada West teams qualified for nationals and, in 2017, they fell 1-0 to Victoria in the semifinals with the top two advancing.
"Experience is a big thing," noted MacEwan head coach Dean Cordeiro. "We were ahead of our time a little bit early on in our university careers. A lot of those players got to the Final Four and that was a great accomplishment. We came ever so close.
"We were a young team with very few veterans – mostly first, second or third-year players. We lost to teams that were veteran based. That's now us. In this league, a lot of success is driven through being battle tested, playing in those key moments and matches."
Most of the veterans on MacEwan's roster can well remember the disappointment of falling short in 2016 and 2017, as well as losing out in the quarter-finals in 2018.
"There's a large number of people still on the team who were there for both games," said Erickson. "The team is so much stronger now and more experienced. Hopefully all the experience we've had since then will benefit us."
Added Cordeiro: "I'm a big believer that you've got to lose before you can win and it's just part of our process. We needed to experience a few of those things, but having those experiences is massive because it's so hard to get to Final Fours.
"For us, we're ready and we're excited. It's just another game for us. We're going to go out there and leave it on the pitch."
The Dinos (10-1-3) finished three points better than the Griffins in the 2019 regular season standings but they didn't play each other with Calgary starting a two-season tour of duty in the Pacific Division. Their last meetings actually came during the 2019 winter season when MacEwan beat Calgary 2-1 and tied them 1-1 in matches at the University of Alberta's Foote Field.
"First and foremost, they've had a ton of success under Troye (Flannery)," said Cordeiro. "He's a great coach – really has changed the culture there and they've been very successful. It's a unique situation because we know each other's styles. We've coached against each other for many years. We know what his tendencies are, and he sure knows ours.
"It's also interesting because a few of our girls played for his UWS (Calgary Foothills) team. He's very on top of our team and he'll prep them for what we do well, and likewise, I've coached against a lot of those girls on the other side and know what their tendencies are.
"It's going to be an interesting battle. It's two very good programs, two very good teams, but only one team can progress. It will be a very entertaining 90-minute fixture on Friday, for sure."