For the first time in nearly two years, the Bisons women’s soccer team hosted a game at the U of M’s West turf field. Playing their home opener against the University of Regina Cougars, the University of Manitoba packed the stands with 230 fans in attendance.
Heading into Friday night’s matchup, the U of M was the favourite. According to the Canada West coaches preseason poll, the Bisons were ranked 9th overall in the conference and 2nd overall in the eastern division ahead of Regina who are ranked 12th in the conference and 3rd in the division.
Early in the match, the Cougars maintained pressure in the Bisons’ end, yet the Bisons were quickly able to turn the tide around.
With the help of some great drives by Bison forward Nicole Davis and a hit crossbar by Jessica Tsai, the Bisons gained momentum, putting the Cougars on their heels.
In the 38th minute, Bison forward Jenna Kunkel fired a shot top left corner, breaking the ice and putting the herd up 1-0.
For the rest of the half, the Bisons continued to apply pressure to the Cougars’ net, but to no avail.
In the second half, the Bisons continued the attack. Brazilian national Bianca Cavalcanti sent a screamer from just outside the box into the net, sending Bison fans into a frenzy in the 47th minute.
In the 55th minute, the University of Regina would finally respond. After being brought down inside the box, Cougars forward Peyton Enns scored on a penalty kick, squeaking it past the fingertips of Bison keeper Karina Bagi.
Unphased by the goal against, Bagi would stand tall for the Bisons, preventing four U of R chances from getting past her.
Backstopped by Bagi, the Bisons attacked the Cougars’ net with reckless abandonment.
Numerous Bison strikes would be played into the Cougars’ box, including a Camila Goldsztein breakaway in front that was thwarted by Cougars goalie Allyson Ford.
Ford would do her best to keep her team in the game. As time ticked past, she made numerous saves attempting to keep her team in the game, but her efforts would not bear fruit.
In the 90th minute, a Bison free kick from outside the box would hit the crossbar and land on a platter for Cavalcanti to head in her second goal of the game.
Cavalcanti’s goal would prove to be the final dagger in the Cougars’ side. Shortly after, the referee would signal full time, giving the win to the Bisons.
With her two goals, Cavalcanti was named player of the game for the Bisons.
After the game, U of M coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas praised Cavalcanti for her performance and emphasized how great of an achievement it was for the rookie forward to notch the first U-Sports goals of her career after sitting out all of last year and enduring so much uncertainty due to travelling during the pandemic.
“We are so excited that she had [such a] great start,” Martinez Lagunas said.
“We worked really hard to bring her [to Canada], you know, lots of paperwork […] and then she couldn’t play last year because of the pandemic and, you know, we waited also two years to have those eager players see her in action, so it just feels great that she had such a great start.”
Martinez Lagunas also thanked the crowd for the team’s success in the home opener.
“Our fans were also a key factor in our win today,” she said.
“They push us, riding the hardest moments, and I want to thank every single one of them who came today to cheer on the team.”
“I’m so proud of the girls because they put all this work [in]. We waited for almost two years to compete again and starting with a win, of course […] it fills our heart.”
After two years of no Canada West action, the U of M women’s soccer team was full of energy and enthusiasm. Boosted by the hundreds of fans that filled the stands, the team had a dominant performance in the home opener. There’s no doubt that this recent performance will motivate other Bison athletes to return with just as much ferocity and enthusiasm as the women’s soccer team did Friday night.
The Bisons women’s soccer team plays away against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Sept. 17 and 18.