By Keaton Hills
Nibo Dlamini and Jenna Matsukubo knew plenty of players on the rival side, but they showed their friends no mercy by scoring a pair of goals apiece to power their hometown University of Ottawa Gee-Gees to a 5-1 Ontario University Athletics women’s soccer championship victory over the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday at uOttawa.
A few hours later that afternoon, it was a repeat local soccer celebration over at Carleton University as the Ravens downed the York Lions 3-1 to win the OUA men’s soccer championship.
Dlamini felt a high level of respect and competitiveness towards the opponents she knew very well, and that helped ensure that the Gee-Gees never took their foot off the gas in the championship contest, she highlighted.
It wasn’t that long ago that the back-to-back provincial university champ celebrated a historic youth soccer title with Gaels striker Mattson Strickler as members of the Ottawa South United Force. Their under-17 team were the first squad to ever sweep the Ottawa Player Development League’s cup, league and post-season championships in 2019.
“We still stay in touch,” noted Dlamini, who spoke to Strickler earlier in the week, “but leading up to the game, it’s kind of more just we’re focused on winning.”
Dlamini added that she finds it fun to play against former teammates and she wishes Strickler the best (as long as it doesn’t hurt her Gee-Gees).
Strickler said “it’s definitely very weird to play someone I’ve played with for so long, but Nibo played amazing” in the final.
“I’m really happy for her,” added the third-year concurrent education student, “and I’m excited for these matchups in the future.”
The Gaels could well get a chance to face the Gee-Gees again when they host the U Sports national championships from Nov. 9-12 in Kingston. On opposite sides of the bracket with Ottawa seeded second (behind #1 Laval) and Queen’s at #5, there’s a chance they could meet again in the national final.
“I think what we struggled with as a team [in the OUA final] is just being really calm,” indicated Strickler, who finished second in league scoring this season behind uOttawa’s Cassandra Provost. “Obviously there’s going to be a lot of pressure with some of these games, so if we can just overcome that pressure and play like how we normally play, I think we can be very successful at nationals, especially on our home turf.”
Gee-Gees head coach Steve Johnson thought his squad’s performance improved a fair bit from their 0-0 draw against Queen’s back on Sept. 24 – the lone game where uOttawa didn’t collect a full three points in their 11-0-1 campaign.
“We talked to the team about playing with confidence,” Johnson recounted. “We felt we were good enough to be able to do both defence and offence [in the final].”
Johnson made it clear before the season started that he expects more than just a repeat provincial championship this year and believes his Gee-Gees can match or exceed their bronze medal performance from the 2022 nationals.
“We’ve got to be at our best,” he underlined. “We’re playing the best in the country when we go to nationals, so nothing but a really, really good performance from us will stop them.”
Local players revel in capturing crowns in town
The Canadian university championships will be a homecoming of sorts for Matsukubo, who played three seasons for Queen’s before returning to Ottawa to study medicine.
“It was awesome,” Matsukubo said of getting to play her old squad in the final. “I was chatting with old and new teammates on the field. I felt like I knew everyone there.”
Matsukubo, who won an OUA title with the Gaels in 2021, led the OUA in assists this season with 10 and matched Dlamini’s 15 points for third in overall scoring.
“This was a huge win, especially for our confidence going into nationals,” Matsukubo added. “The fans were amazing [Saturday]. It felt like they didn’t stop cheering the whole game. They really lifted us up.”
As a teenager, the Glebe Collegiate Institute grad played for the West Ottawa Warriors under coach Kwame Telemaque, who celebrated an OUA soccer championship of his own as an assistant for the Ravens men on Saturday as well.
The hometown connections are pretty much endless for the Ravens, who have one player from Winnipeg on their roster, one from North Bay, another from Hawkesbury and the other 21 from Ottawa.
Luca Piccioli got to play the starring role in the final with two goals as Carleton won its fourth OUA men’s soccer title of all time at home.
The Ravens came into the championship match hot, having captured the OUA regular season title, followed by a pair of dramatic playoff victories.
Rookie Raven Eric Yoseke scored the winning goal in added time to top Toronto 1-0 in the quarter-finals and then he turned the trick again with the winning penalty kick that qualified Carleton for nationals following a 1-1 semi-final with Brock.
“We’re on the top of the world right now,” Piccolli told The Charlatan‘s Nkele Martin. “We know there’s only three games to go, but we feel incredible, [it feels like] we’re unbeatable.”
Carleton has been seeded third for the Nov. 9-12 U Sports men’s soccer championship at Cape Breton University.
Award winners aplenty for local university soccer
Women’s most valuable player Provost and men’s coach of the year Marcelo Plada headlined a long list of local players honoured by the OUA in soccer this season.
Plada earned the conference’s top coach award in his first leading Carleton after taking over from Kwesi Loney, who was promoted to high performance sport director for the Ravens.
Provost repeated as MVP en route to the league scoring title and a new uOttawa record of 26 points for the season.
Here are the local conference all-stars:
OUA East women’s soccer first team
Defender – Clare Sun, Queen’s
Defender – Maya Smith, Ottawa
Midfielder – Nibo Dlamini, Ottawa
Midfielder – Chloe Doiron, Carleton
Striker – Cassandra Provost, Ottawa
OUA East women’s soccer second team
Defender – Adriane Devlin, Ottawa
Midfielder – Seema Sakran, Queen’s
Striker – Jenna Matsukubo, Ottawa
Striker – Mikayla Moser, Carleton
OUA East men’s soccer first team
Defender – Rapha Garcia, Carleton
Midfielder – Luca Picciolli, Carleton
OUA East men’s soccer second team
Defender – Tareq Hamad, Carleton
Midfielder – Omar Darwish, Carleton
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