When the final whistle blew in Manitoba’s playoff opener at Grant MacEwan, they accepted a bittersweet fate – a 2-0 loss to the home side, putting an end to one of the most exciting Bisons soccer seasons in recent memory.
Manitoba had previously played the Griffins once during the 2015-16 season. The match featured a tremendous Bisons comeback in Edmonton, as the herd drew 2-2 from being down 2-0, and MacEwan kicked off Friday’s match looking for some redemption from that earlier meeting.
The home side’s high-powered offense forced goalkeeper Madison Wilford into making five saves in the first 15 minutes of the match.
Approaching halftime, MacEwan was still in control of proceedings while the visitors were looking for a way to spoil the home side’s momentum.
Just two minutes before the break, the Griffins broke through when midfielder Erika Vecchio headed a shot past Wilford after play had been restarted from a throw-in. At the halfway point, MacEwan deserved the lead, generating 19 attempts at goal to the Bisons’ six.
Countless times this season, Manitoba had responded immediately after the halftime whistle. On this occasion, though, it was the Bisons who fell victim to start the second half.
After just 50 minutes, striker Sheena Tracey doubled the Griffins’ lead with her second goal against the Bisons this season.
MacEwan’s spirited number nine proved to be a thorn in the Bisons’ backline, amassing 10 shots during the full 90 minutes.
Down 2-0 with 40 minutes remaining to save their season, Manitoba needed a quick response. It unfortunately didn’t arrive, as MacEwan nearly widened the lead to 3-0 when defender Kayla Evans struck the woodwork.
At the end of 90 minutes, the Manitoba Bisons soccer season had come to a close with a 2-0 defeat. Yet it was a classy way for left-back Elyce Molyneaux to bow out of the CIS as she was named the player of the match in her final performance.
Wilford also played a heroic part in the postseason exit, with an astounding 21 saves to her credit.
The win was imprinted in Grant MacEwan history, with their first match hosted at Jasper Place Bowl on top of their first quarterfinal win in the Canada West conference. The Griffins will now progress into the Canada West Select Six.
On a positive note, the Bisons’ exponential improvement on last season was displayed with their first trip to the CIS playoffs since 2012-13, and the first time in coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas’ reign.
At the other end of the spectrum, the shock first-round postseason exit will indicate final CIS performance of four Bisons – Chloe Werle, Megan Graca, Elyce Molyneaux, and Alyssa Robinson.
The Bisons now enter a seven-month offseason with the goal of improving on this season during their upcoming 2016-17 campaign. Though many would have wanted to see Manitoba go deeper into the playoffs, their first postseason appearance in three years gives much hope for a group of talented players destined for greater achievements.