CORNER BROOK With just one blemish on their win-loss record all season, the Island Orthotics Curling Rangers are the clear favourites to reclaim the Corner Brook Women’s Soccer League championship this evening.
The Rangers lock horns with the Under-18s 6:45 p.m. this evening at Wellington Street Sports Complex in the title match.
There were many factors at play to lead to such a dominating campaign, which included a nine-game shutout streak during one decisive stretch of defensive brilliance.
“It’s hard to say,” said third-year centre midfielder Erin McNeil of the key to their success. “I feel like we’ve got an all-around pretty solid team with a lot of good players ... we just came together really well this year.”
McNeil pointed specifically to the “phenomenal” goalkeeping of Ashley Preston, the addition of Hannah Connolly to the midfield which “helped settle the play down,” and the strong play of striker Hannah Bradbury, who McNeil said “is a machine up there.”
The Rangers have won three of the past six league championships, but were left stunned last year after falling 1-0 to an Under-16 squad in the semifinal round. The loss has served as season-long motivation for those who suffered through it.
“Big time,” said McNeil, a 29-year-old from Codroy Valley who has been patrolling soccer pitches since she was five years old.
“We’ve been talking about this for quite a while now. We want it bad this year.”
Coincidentally enough, the only player to score in that semifinal contest last season was Jade Regular, who has since graduated to the Under-18 club and would certainly figure to be a major factor in any possible upset when the Rangers see her again tonight.
“We’re going to have to put some bodies on her, we can’t give her a lot of space,” said McNeil of Regular, a sniper of the highest magnitude. “She can shoot from pretty much anywhere.”
McNeil wasn’t at all surprised to see the Under-18s defeat the more experienced Veitch Physio on Monday night to clinch a berth in the final, citing their overall team speed as a potentially-devastating threat.
“Every time we play them, we never just walk in there and it’s a done deal,” she said. “It’s always a challenge.
“They’re going to be motivated,” she added. “So it’s going to be interesting for sure.”
The Rangers can take a little comfort from the 3-1 victory they earned over the Under-18s in their last meeting on Aug. 19.
“We’re definitely a bit nervous,” McNeil said. “But I think we’re mostly excited to get out there and, hopefully, take this one home this year.”