Marauders maul 'Stangs
By Alan Russette
Last year, the Western women's soccer team ended a promising regular season at the top of the Ontario University Athletics West division only to stumble in the early rounds of the playoffs and cut short their dreams of national glory.
At J.W. Little Stadium on Saturday, the team opened up their season against McMaster, still in a pre-season frame of mind, which contributed to a 4-3 defeat.
Eager to put last season's disappointment behind them, this year's squad has rebuilt and refined their team format in hopes of a strong '98 campaign.
One of the strengths of the Mustangs this year is depth of talent. Gone are All-Canadians Sara Nathanson and Beth Washburn, but head coach Sherri Kitching is pleased with how the void has been filled.
"We've got a lot of talent that is very versatile at many different positions," Kitching said. She added that if adjustments for match-ups or new legs were needed, they do a good job of changing positions and being effective.
Kitching felt a change in philosophy will benefit the team's performance throughout the year.
"It's hard to predict in the Ontario West division how things will happen. The quality of players keeps getting better and the distribution of players across the province seems to change," Kitching said. "The level of play seems to step up a notch each year.
"Of course I expect great things from our team. And yes, [last year's playoff finish] was disappointing. I think one of the changes in our philosophy this year is to take it one game at a time and not look ahead to the nationals or even to the provincials at this time."
Throughout the season the Mustangs will look to co-captains Carmyn Aleshka and Paula Shurge for leadership, while veterans Sherri Scott, Amme Harding and Julie Valvasori provide aggressiveness, intensity and offensive punch.
But in the home opener, things just didn't go the Mustangs' way. From the start of Saturday's game, bad bounces and good defensive play by the Marauders frustrated the Western attack, putting the Mustangs behind by a score of 4-1 at halftime.
Mustang co-captain Carmyn Aleshka brought Western back in the second half, scoring the first of her two goals early to cut the deficit to two.
As the second half wound down the Mustangs kept the pressure on, with Aleshka scoring one last goal on a penalty kick to cut the Mac lead down to 4-3. But it was too little, too late, this day as the Marauders handed the Mustangs an opening day loss.
"Because of the pace of the league, you can't start out a game as flat as we did. Mac wanted the win more and they played harder in the first half and as a result they capitalized on their opportunities," Kitching said. "We sat back on our heels and watched them come at us to the 18-yard box."
Mac assistant coach Frank Riga was pleased with his team's performance through most of the game. Riga felt secure enough with a three-goal lead to make substitutions giving less experienced players game time a nearly costly error.
"I made more changes than I would normally make. But with the score being 4-1, I thought I should make [them]" said Riga. "But with the many changes that were made, I think the team got unsettled a little bit and we lost our composure. At the end we were holding on for dear life."
Goal scorers for McMaster included Amy Apps, who had two, Nicole Skinner and Natalie Minicola, while Amme Harding and Carmyn Aleshka, also with two, responded for the Mustangs.
Western spends next weekend on the road at Laurier and Brock respectively.