WSOC: ‘Birds top Timberwolves to advance to Final Four

WSOC: ‘Birds top Timberwolves to advance to Final Four

Gideon Hill, UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds utilized two first half goals and a late penalty kick to defeat the UNBC Timberwolves 3-1 on Sunday afternoon at Thunderbird Stadium to advance to next weekend's Canada West final four.

After UNBC bested the Manitoba Bisons 2-1 in a penalty shootout on Friday night to advance to Sunday's quarter-final. In their only regular season meeting, the T-Birds made easy work of the Timberwolves with a 7-0 victory in Prince George. But UNBC looked like a different squad on the rainy Point Grey pitch.

"We had a difficult time breaking down their block in the second half, there weren't many spaces to play through so credit to them, they kept it tight," said UBC head coach Jesse Symons. "We had to work really hard to find ways to get in behind them, fortunately we were able to do that."

Early UBC persistence did pay off for the home side, as a set piece off the boot of defender Emma Peckinpaugh led to the opener in the 13th minute. The third-year from Delta, B.C. played in a lovely ball to the feet of senior Margaret Hadley, who turned and played it in the air to Danielle Steer. UBC's leading scorer in the regular season stepped up and headed the ball past the outstretched arms of T-Wolves keeper Brooke Molby. The ball flew into the top left corner of the net for the early 1-0 lead for the Thunderbirds.

Three minutes later, it was another for the T-Birds, as Steer was the provider this time as she received a ball at the top of the UBC box and found Amelia Crawford with a tidy pass. Crawford did the rest, dribbling on by UNBC defender Julia Babicz and firing a left footed strike from 20 yards out past the diving Molby for a 2-0 T-Bird lead.

Despite some late opening half pressure, the score remained 2-0 after 45 minutes.

The visitors came out with good pressure in the second half, leading to a fantastic passage of play down the left wing. Mara McCleary, who had scored in Friday's play-in victory, spread the ball to the left wing for the onrushing Kylie Erb. The UNBC left back poured on the speed, as she kept the bouncing ball in down the touchline, finding Paige Payne at the top of the UBC box. Payne danced by her defender and in the process was taken down and the referee who was standing right by the play instantaneously pointed to the spot. Payne stepped up and placed the ball low, past Moore to get the Timberwolves back into the game in the 55th minute.

Payne created another opportunity as she won a battle with UBC's Emma Kallner, and went in on a partial break. As UBC was closing down on Payne, she chipped a shot from 20 yards out that saw Moore parry off her glove and onto the crossbar, barely keeping the 'Birds' lead intact.

Fans remained tense until the 88th minute when substitute Michelle Jang went up for a header with Timberwolves defender McCleary, but in the process was taken down, and a penalty kick was awarded. Steer stepped up and slid the ball to the left of Molby for the 3-1 UBC lead, clinching a final four berth.

"We're just never satisfied with how we play regardless of the situation, we just keep pushing," said Steer who increased her combined regular season and playoff goal total to 12. "The fact that it's playoffs, we were definitely pushing harder, we definitely want this. We talked about it coming down to who wants it more at the end of the day and I think we showed that."

"(Danielle Steer) had a really good week of training and she's really motivated right now to do well and lead this team," added an impressed Symons. "Around her Amelia, Alyssa and Michelle up front did a fantastic job helping her and our midfield were on the ball a lot. Full credit to Dani to score twice and set up another in a playoff game, first class."

The T-Birds have played their final game of the season on home pitch, but don't have to travel far for next weekend's Canada West championship tournament, hosted by the Trinity Western Spartans in Langley. The 'Birds will play a conference semifinal against the Calgary Dinos who advanced with a 2-1 quarterfinal win over the Saskatchewan Huskies. Kickoff will be 6:00 p.m. PT on Friday, November 2nd.

PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds