By Dan Plouffe
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees celebrated an Ontario University Athletics women’s soccer title at home on Saturday afternoon, downing the team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs 1-0 at Matt Anthony Field.
Ottawa native Nibo Dlamini was part of the Gee-Gees’ attack pressuring the York Lions as their opponents were called for a hand ball in the penalty area on the final play before halftime, and the second-year forward then made no mistake converting the penalty kick to give uOttawa a 1-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I can’t even explain it,” Dlamini said of the winning feeling. “We worked so hard this season and to actually get a championship out of it is so great.”
The Gee-Gees’ defence gave goalkeeper Juliann Lacasse a relatively easy day at the office to post the team’s 10th clean sheet in 15 OUA games, and eighth in a row.
uOttawa goalkeepers did not allow a goal during the playoffs. Lacasse was in net for the Gee-Gees’ 4-0 quarter-final over Toronto and the championship final, while Cassidy Joslin was unbeatable in the semi-final (and nationals qualifier) at Western this past Wednesday. That included the 0-0 regulation, extra time and even the three shots she faced in the deciding penalty-kicks shootout, won by uOttawa 3-0.
Dlamini’s leadoff shootout goal stood as the winner in that contest as well, and clinched one of the two available Ontario berths in the Nov. 10-13 Canadian university championships at Université Laval.
“That was a lot more electric (than the penalty goal in the final) I’d say because there was a lot more on the line,” reflected Dlamini. “But it’s always nerve-racking to step up and take a penalty shot. I just kind of zone in and block everything out.”
It was Dlamini’s first provincial title since making history as Ontario’s first-ever youth soccer team to capture the Ontario Player Development League’s cup, overall season and playoff championships in 2019 with Ottawa South United. Lacasse and fellow second-year Gee-Gee defenders Maya Smith and Tessa Frangione were also part of that team, and Dlamini’s now thrilled to carry on their winning tradition at uOttawa.
“The team chemistry and culture we have going on is really important. The whole team is supportive and the whole team’s got your back. It’s something special,” signals the human kinetics student who didn’t have a desire to move away for university. “Ottawa U is a great program, Steve (Johnson) is a really great coach, so I figured why not?
“And I’ve always been close with family, a lot of them were here watching (Saturday), so that’s definitely one of the reasons I wanted to come here.”
Johnson, the Gee-Gees’ coach since their first kickoff in 1994, celebrated his milestone 10th Ontario title – tops out of all schools.
“It’s been a fantastic season,” said Johnson, whose squad also earned a FISU Americas title a couple weeks ago to qualify for the 2023 University World Cup next fall in China. “We’ve had a season that is unique, going down to play in Mexico, winning a championship there, then coming back, resetting our focus, and trying to win the championship here.
“The 10th win is special, I’m really proud of what the program has done in our existence.”
The Gee-Gees will face Trinity Western in the quarter-final round of the U Sports nationals on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., with semi-finals set for Saturday and medal games Sunday.
uOttawa is seeded third at the eight-team tournament (based on last year’s Ontario finish). University of British Columbia (first seed), Montréal (second), Cape Breton (fourth), York (fifth), Calgary (seventh) and Laval (eighth) are the other participants.
The Gee-Gees’ last nationals appearance was in 2018 on home field when they won their second-ever Canadian crown (the other came in 1996).
“It’s great to win those tight games (in the playoffs). I’m feeling pretty good,” highlighted Dlamini. “We’ve got two out of the three championships we’re after this season now, so we’ve got a lot of confidence heading into nationals, but we know it’s going to be difficult because all the other teams are high quality as well, so we’re ready for a fight.”
After scoring a team-record 18 goals in 12 regular season games, the Gee-Gees’ Cassandra Provost was selected as the OUA East Most Valuable Player, while teammates Adriane Devlin and Katherine Delev joined her as conference First Team All-Stars. uOttawa’s Kayla Kyle and Soumaya Bouak were Second Team All-Stars along with the Carleton Ravens’ Chloe Lachance-Soulard, Elodie Sylvain and Chloe Doiron, while Carleton’s Chloe Doherty earned a Community Service Award.
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