Speaking last Tuesday about the Manitoba Bisons’ soccer season opener against Thompson Rivers, coach Vanessa Martinez-Lagunas had already set an opening day objective for her squad.
“We cannot underestimate any opponent, we want to start with a win,” she said ahead of opening up her third season as the Bisons bench boss.
On Friday, Manitoba did just that. The Bisons defeated the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack 4-0 at the University of Manitoba indoor soccerplex. Thunderstorm conditions prevented the match from being played outdoors.
After an anxious first ten minutes, momentum shifted in Manitoba’s direction. Off a Bisons corner kick, Elyce Molyneaux’s in-swinger rang warning bells for Wolfpack goalkeeper Taylor Shantz, who fisted away the danger. The Bisons did not let up, and drew first blood soon after.
“I think we struggled in the first 10 minutes. We were nervous and Thompson Rivers did a great job pressuring us and didn’t give us a lot of space,” said Martinez-Lagunas following the match.
Eighteen minutes in, Bruna Mavignier produced a lovely final ball to Selina Speranza inside the penalty area. With her first touch, Speranza rounded Shantz and tapped home for the Bisons’ first goal of the season.
Scoring the first goal boosted morale for the team and held particular significance for Manitoba goalkeeper Chloe Werle. The captain was making her return to action after being sidelined for the entirety of last season due to a back fracture.
“I was told I would never play soccer again. When we scored our first goal, I almost started crying because this is what a year [of rehab] has amounted to,” said Werle.
Nearing the end of the first half, Manitoba’s relentless pressure paid off again. Off a Wolfpack turnover, Alyssa Robinson and Alanna Shaw combined for a gorgeous one-two pass onto the wing. Robinson picked out Mavignier inside the area to score her first goal of the season.
Moments later, a short corner was played to Amanda Wong, who then whipped in a dangerous cross that Mavignier instinctively headed in for a 3-0 lead.
Late in the second half, Speranza danced through two Wolfpack players and played a ball across the face of goal to Sara Schur, who exquisitely scored her first goal as a Bison.
The Bisons’ second match on Saturday, hosting the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus, was a different matter. The teams played to a draw, which saw Manitoba come back from a 1-0 deficit for a 1-1 final.
Heat striker Courtney Hemmerling placed her finish to the top left corner to put the Heat up 1-0 just before halftime. Minutes after the break, Speranza delivered a cross from the right flank which Shaw equalized on a clinical finish to the far post.
The match between two sides who appeared equal in calibre could have easily gone either way. Werle was kept busy for the entire 90 minutes. Her standout moment came in the first half when she tipped a looping header over the bar then held onto a decently struck shot moments later. The Bisons could have easily clinched a late win with Mavignier’s clever header, but it was saved by Joella Koblischke.
Martinez-Lagunas was confident of her team’s ability to put up a fight after giving up the first goal in a sensitive time of the match.
“It was an error from our part, but I love the way we came back. Then, we were all over them, we showed we wanted to get the three points,” she said after the draw.
Even though the Bisons have had a satisfactory start to the season, there is still a long way to go. Secondary captain Amanda Wong, who was injured in the opener, realized the importance of thinking long term.
“Obviously it’s a great start but that doesn’t mean anything. We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of improvements to make.”
The Bisons are on the road on Sept. 12 and 13, facing Saskatchewan and Regina, respectively.