Banner Season: Gee-Gees welcome talent-laden final four to nation’s capital amidst quest for repeat title

Banner Season: Gee-Gees welcome talent-laden final four to nation’s capital amidst quest for repeat title

Gee-Gees welcome talent-laden final four to nation's capital amidst quest for repeat title

Ottawa, Ont. (via David DiCenzo) – Two consecutive wins and a coveted OUA championship will be theirs. The chase for a banner has come down to a quartet of battle-tested teams, three of which feature prominently in the national rankings, while a fourth enters the Final Four on the heels of a massive playoff upset.

2019 OUA Women's Soccer Championship Fan Guide
Friday, November 1
11:00 am             York vs Ottawa                  Stats | Watch
2:00 pm             Toronto vs Western          Stats | Watch
Saturday, November 2
11:00 am             Bronze Medal Match         Watch
1:30 pm               Gold Medal Match            Watch

The No. 10 York Lions will face a stiff test in their first provincial semifinal since 2015 as they take on the nation's No. 1 side and defending OUA and U SPORTS champion Ottawa Gee-Gees in the opening match at Gee-Gees Field. The upstart Toronto Varsity Blues booked a spot in last four with a stunning upset of the Queen's Gaels and they will look to keep their postseason run going against the No. 9 Western Mustangs in the second match of the day.

York has tasted victory at the highest level before with three OUA championships in school history, the last coming 10 years ago. And the Lions enter the Final Four in excellent form, having suffered just a single defeat this season, which came back in the first week against the Guelph Gryphons. Fourth-year striker Kiyani Johnson has been the offensive force for York throughout its strong season.

The Markham, Ont. native, a rookie the last time the Lions were at the Final Four, finished tied for second in the conference with 11 goals. Johnson also showed she could play the role of provider by assisting on the 53rd minute strike from Marissa Castellano (Pickering, Ont.) that gave York a 1-0 win over Waterloo in the West Division's opening round match last weekend. The Lions were then able to avenge that previous loss to the Gryphons with an emotional 1-0 extra-time victory in Guelph when midfielder Jotam Chouhan (Caledon, Ont.) notched the winner in the 105th minute of play.

The Lions conceded just eight goals all season and another strong defensive effort will be critical to get past the prolific Gee-Gees, who scored an OUA-best 40 over the course of the campaign. That task will mostly fall to a back line anchored by standout third-year centre back Teni Odetoyinbo (Mississauga, Ont.).

With that vaunted offence in tow, Ottawa certainly didn't let complacency take over after winning the program's ninth OUA banner and ultimately, a national championship in 2018. The host Gee-Gees have been the class of the conference once again, going undefeated in 14 matches (12-0-2) before producing a dominant 5-0 victory over Ryerson in their East quarterfinal. That result showed how hungry the well-balanced side is to secure a 10th banner in front of their home supporters.

The high-octane offence revolves around fourth-year star Mikayla Morton, the conference leader in goals with 17. The Courtice, Ont. native is in fine form with goals in four consecutive matches, including Ottawa's third in the five-goal outburst against the Rams last week.

There are no real weaknesses to exploit. For all of their offensive firepower, the top-ranked Gee-Gees have been equally adept on defence with just four goals allowed in 2019, the last coming all the way back on Sept. 22 in a 1-1 draw with the Queen's Gaels. Ottawa has outscored opponents 21-0 in the seven matches since dropping those points in Kingston. And head coach Steve Johnson must be ecstatic with the addition of rookie defender Trinity Esprit. The first-year player from Scarborough, Ont. possesses incredible speed that allows her to both deal with attackers and make contributions in the offensive end of the pitch. Esprit started 11 matches on the back line this season and chipped in two goals before also twice finding the back of the net against Ryerson.

Friday's second semifinal is an intriguing matchup that pits the surging Varsity Blues against Western, who like Ottawa, has not lost in 2019. Toronto makes an appearance in the Final Four for the first time in 15 years and is still in search of its first OUA banner. The Varsity Blues have come close before with a silver medal in 1990 and bronze in both 1989 and 2004. The unranked side produced a fantastic four-match win streak in early October with three of those victories coming the way of clean sheets. And while Toronto ended the season with consecutive losses to the Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens, the team rebounded in an incredible way by eliminating a Queen's side that went 12-0-2 before postseason play began.

Third-year midfielder Miranda Badovinac (Burlington, Ont.) has been one of the architects of the Blues' run to the Final Four. The NCAA transfer is the team's top scorer this season with 10 in 16 matches, three of which have come in the playoffs. Badovinac's first-half header helped Toronto advance 1-0 over the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks in the first round and she scored two more against Queen's, including the crucial opener and a second insurance tally early in the second half to shock the Gaels. Former Queen's player Jenny Wolever (Toronto, Ont.), who had the third goal in the East quarter-final win, has been another key piece for her new team. The fifth-year forward has had an excellent season in Toronto with eight goals and six assists.

The Varsity Blues' back line of Daniela Cipriano (Mississauga, Ont.), Rena Nakajima (Whistler, B.C.), and Anna Crone (North Vancouver, B.C.) has performed well in front of talented goalkeeper Levanta Staggolis (Toronto, Ont.). The unit has contributed to seven clean sheets this year and will need to be sharp against a dangerous Western team.

"The group has worked really hard over the last two months to get to where we are this weekend," says Varsity Blues associate head coach Angelo Cavalluzzo. "We have a huge obstacle in our way in the form of Western University, who were the top team in the OUA West. We have some ideas as to how we can exploit them, but at the end of the day it's about the desire and togetherness of the players on the day and I believe our group epitomizes these qualities and will be at it and ready to go on Friday."

Those aforementioned Mustangs, who topped the West Division ranks with an undefeated 10-0-4 mark, are looking for their first OUA banner since 2004. Western's back end will be difficult to breach as the side led the conference with just two goals conceded throughout the 14-match campaign, though they both came in the final month of the schedule. The offence revolves around third-year player Giulia Geraci (Bradford, Ont.), the team's scoring leader with eight goals. It was Geraci's timely strike in the 66th minute of play that helped Western advance to the Final Four with a tight 1-0 win over McMaster at Mustang Field last week.

Goalkeeper Megan Girardi (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) has thrived as the last line of defence for the gritty Mustangs. She was almost flawless through 14 regular season matches, registering 10 clean sheets with 45 saves. Girardi was ready when called upon against McMaster, stopping all three of the Marauders' shots on target in the West quarterfinal.

The two winners of Friday's semifinals will play for the championship at 2:00 pm the following day. All four of this weekend's matches will be steamed live on oua.tv.

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