Royals play to dramatic fourth place finish

In the end, drama ruled the day.

Like a tautly-scripted thriller, the Douglas College Royals pushed their bronze medal hopes right to the last minute before succumbing 2-1 to the Fanshawe Falcons, ending the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s national women’s soccer championships in fourth place.

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As the host team, the Royals were aiming to exit Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park with the most.

The Falcons broke a 1-1 stalemate on Saturday in the 83rd minute, when Nicole Nielsen converted a corner kick by heading the ball past Royals goalkeeper Alexa Gazzola for the game winner.

Although Douglas pulled out all the stops to get the equalizer, Fanshawe, the Ontario champions, were able to protect the lead.

“We were a bit unfortunate to have them score so late, and not actually get the lead earlier,” remarked Douglas coach Chris Laxton. “Coming into the second half we countered with one and should have had another one a few minutes later, but it wasn’t to be.”

The Falcons opened the scoring at the 42-minute mark, but the hosts charged out and tied it barely a minute into the second half. Captain Samantha Kell delivered a well-placed free kick into the box, where teammate Alyssa Lum, a Dr. Charles Best grad, headed home the equalizer.

“Honestly, we were awesome (against Fanshawe). Defensively, we were very sound and did a terrific job covering their striker (All-Canadian Jade Kovacevic) who scored five in one game and two in another. … She got a couple of shots off but didn’t score, and she averaged three goals a game during the season.”

Picking up the team’s Player of the Game award was defender Hannah dela Cruz.

Douglas peeled off a two-game win streak to advance to the bronze medal game, after opening the tournament with a harsh 4-0 loss to four-time defending champion Elan de Garneau.

In their second match, the Royals rebounded with a resounding 4-1 triumph over the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans.

The two teams traded goals in the opening 20 minutes, before Caitlin Limmayog-Danielson tallied what proved to be the game-winner at the 36-minute mark. Samantha Kell, Taylor Wettig and dela Cruz also scored, while Burnaby’s Martina Pettenon was selected the player of the game.

They needed penalty kicks to advance to the bronze game, edging Northern Alberta Ooks 1-0. Douglas counted five goals on their six penalty kick attempts, while the Ooks managed just two.

Scoring for the Royals were Coquitlam’s Mikaela Montagano, Mikayla Hamilton, Kell and Gazzola, who also picked up the player of the game award.

It was overall a good learning experience, and for those who will leave the program an experience that marked the Royals’ fourth straight top-five finish at the nationals.

“Everyone should be proud of their performances, and the team showed well against some formidable opponents,” said Laxton. “We had a bit of turmoil to start the season but as the season went on the players galvanized together to make a good push.”

Kell was named to the All-Canadian honour roll list, while defender Preet Thandi was selected for the Championship All-Star team.

The coach said Kell continued to be the consummate leader and great teammate, while Thandi rose to the challenge as a second-year standout.

“(Thandi) was amazing during the tournament, especially the last game,” said Laxton. “She was everything; she was strong, smart and physical and really led a strong defensive effort.”

In the national final, it was an all-Quebec showdown, with Champlain St. Lambert edging Garneau 3-2 on Thalin Krauth-Ibarz’s second marker of the game in the 89th minute.

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