Entering weekend play, the Sea-Hawks were 4-0 in the AUS, and the seventh-ranked U Sports team in the country.
And while the team’s offence receives — and deserves — a lot of credit for the quick start (the Sea-Hawks have scored a conference-high 16 goals), the stingy defence has allowed only a single goal.
And a big reason for that is the play of rookie keeper Sydney Walsh.
Walsh, 18, starred for Newfoundland and Labrador at the Canada Summer Games last month. If she wasn’t the best keeper in Winnipeg, she was top three, and this despite playing for a ninth-place team.
The St. John’s native has three shutouts in four games as Memorial heads to Nova Scotia again this weekend, for games in Sydney Saturday against Cape Breton University, followed by a Sunday tilt against St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish.
Those games figure to be tougher, as both the Capers and X-Women were also unbeaten entering games tonight.
Walsh and her teammates had an easy time of it on opening weekend, sweeping the Mount Allison Mounties at King George V Park by a combined score of 12-0. Walsh stopped a combined two shots, both of those in the opener.
She was a tested a bit more last weekend in Halifax, where MUN registered 3-1 and 1-0 wins over Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie. Walsh stopped seven of eight shots against the Huskies, and made all 13 saves against the Tigers.
She’s still young, but it’s safe to say Walsh might be well on her way to an all-star career in the AUS.
“Typically,” said Sea-Hawks coach Mike Power, “keepers usually blossom later, even at the pro level. Sydney’s got this confidence and experience and more wisdom than her age might suggest.”
Of course, it’s not just Walsh carrying the freight on the Sea-Hawks. All-Canadian Jessie Noseworthy is back to her scoring ways, leading the conference with five goals. And Nicole Torraville has shown her AUS rookie of the year showing last season was no fluke.
Make no mistake, however, Walsh is already having a big impact on Memorial.
“The thing about having Sydney in goal is that the girls know if they make a mistake, it’s okay,” Power said. “She gives them that much more confidence.”
An all-star coming up through the minor ranks, Walsh said her stint with the Canada Games program helped prepare her for the Sea-Hawks. It didn’t hurt, either, that Power also coached the Games squad, and Matt Peddle is/was the keepers coach for Memorial and the Games team.
Walsh opened a lot of eyes in Winnipeg in her first game, when Newfoundland and Labrador put up a valiant fight against British Columbia, only to lose 1-0. Walsh made over a dozen stops in that game.
“It was a confidence-booster, no doubt, but I’ve kept my confidence in check,” she said. “I’ve made sure that I’m not going into the AUS cocky or thinking that I’m the very best and no one is scoring on me.
“But I think having had a good showing in Winnipeg, in a high-level national competition, has definitely helped me coming into this season in that I’m not near as nervous as I probably would be.”
A graduate of Waterford Valley High last spring, Walsh has dove head-first into her university studies in the engineering program. She said she’s made the adjustment well in the classroom and on the soccer pitch, where Memorial has established itself as an AUS women’s soccer contender.
The Sea-Hawks won their first conference championship three years ago, and were among the best regular season teams in the AUS in 2016 and 2015.
However, both times Memorial fell short in the playoffs.
There’s an attitude around this year’s squad, Walsh says, that indicates these players want another championship for MUN, which is refreshing for a university that hasn’t won very much.
“Everyone is focused and determined,” she said. “There are people in the gym on their own, doing runs on their own. Everyone is really excited, obviously, but we’re also very motivated.
“We’re pushing each other in practice. People will even tell someone in practice if they’re not performing, ‘Hey, come on, step it up. You’re letting the entire team down. It’s not just yourself cutting those corners. That can be the difference in us winning in the 89th minute, or losing.’
“That said, everyone is very positive, but we’re not happy yet, especially after last season.”
After setting a conference record of 51 goals in the 2016 regular season, Memorial lost 2-0 in overtime to Acadia in the semifinal.
“We’re driven towards getting to that point once again, and going farther,” she said.