Varsity Blues advance to semis

The U of T soccer program had very high hopes entering the playoffs; unfortunately for the women’s Varsity Blues, they ran into the Nipissing Lakers and a goal in the 90th minute by Amy Laidlaw, a Lakers midfielder. The Varsity Blues had a strong showing this season, and based on their fifth-place finish in last year’s playoffs, the lady Blues were expected to make the next big step in kissing a CIS championship trophy. It was a disappointing loss, but there could be a silver lining.  The loss should make the team better in the long run; this can be a lesson for the younger players on the team never to lose focus and to take every game like it could be your last.

Unfortunately, the ladies had to learn this lesson the hard way with a heartbreaking loss. The loss seemed to give a spark to the men’s soccer team, who played the quarter finals on Saturday after the women’s team.

They were able to overcome a 1-0 deficit in the final five minutes of the game to clinch a spot in the semi-finals. Remarkably, the Blues scored in the 90th minute on a penalty shot after a handball in the 18-yard box awarded the Blues a chance to take the lead. Alex Raphael, the Blues’ leading scorer, stepped up and kicked the ball into the top left corner to secure the Blues a 2-1 victory. The key to securing the victory was a huge save by goaltender John Smits in the 84th minute.  He was able to stop a clear-cut breakaway which kept the Blues in the game before scoring the tying and the winning goals.

The Blues clinched the first overall seed in the OUA and are excited to make another huge run like they did last year.  Smits believes in the team and exudes confidence: “Our team has trained too hard and have lived for this moment for so long, that pressure in front of our own fans is not an option. That should tell you the level of confidence our team has.” The Blues tasted the big one last year, losing in the finals to McMaster in the CIS final; they are determined to get back and win it this year, à la the Miami Dolphins who, in 1972, beat the Washington Redskins after losing to the  Cowboys in 1971. For the Varsity Blues, these next few games will really show how far the men’s side has come along since last year’s disappointment, and how focussed and prepared they are to face this year’s challenge. In the semi-finals, they are scheduled to meet the Western Mustangs on the pitch and it looks to be a close match.

If you want to catch the action, the semi-finals are being played this weekend at York University.  Go out and cheer the boys on.

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