Mathematically still alive but essentially playing for pride, the University of Calgary men's soccer team prepared to face two of the country's finest soccer squads last weekend.
Up first was a rematch against the nationally ranked number two University of British Columbia Thunderbirds-- a team that defeated the Dinos handily two-nil in Vancouver on Sept. 20.
Play began on a bracing autumn day, with neither team finding concrete footing in their offensive areas. The first half would settle nil-nil with little offence or action.
The second half played out similar to the first, with the Dinos and the Thunderbirds battling hard for field position. UBC appeared to be frustrated by the grit and determination displayed by the Dinos, often failing to have more than one touch before a Dino defender was on them.
During the closing minutes of the game Calgary had a glorious chance of picking up a victory, as Dino goalkeeper J.P. Crescenzi booted a beautiful ball onto the foot of fourth-year forward David Bird, who was unable to get a shot off before a UBC defender caught up. Nonetheless, the Dinos came away with a respectable draw against arguably the best team in the country.
"I thought we played with a lot more heart and a lot more discipline," said third-year midfielder Tanmeet Singh. "It's disappointing that we didn't play this way earlier in the season. I thought defensively we were pretty good today."
Looking to build on the solid outing from the day before, the Dinos returned to the West Varsity pitch on Sunday for their final home game of the season against the University of Victoria Vikes.
Formally eliminated from playoff contention by the draw against the T-Birds, the Dinos turned their full attention to building for next season on another brisk afternoon.
Showing incredible resolve considering the battle they were in the previous day, the red-clad terrible lizards jumped on the nationally third ranked Vikes early and often, with fifth-year forward Lauren Ramos leading the charge.
Play balanced out over the course of the first half, but it was evident that the Dinos were playing with a confidence that was at times lacking earlier in the season. Despite their strong play the half would settle nil-nil, as the Dinos offensive struggles continued to haunt them.
Seemingly determined to end their home schedule on a high note, the Dinos burst out of the gate for the second half and hemmed the Vikes in their defensive zone for much of the remainder of the game. The Dinos generated several solid attempts on net, highlighted by forward Jeremy Jenkyns try that rattled off the near post in the 7oth minute.
The Dinos continued to apply pressure in the Vikes box, with Ben Cole and Brian Delaney taking turns controlling play and showing poise under pressure. Finally, in the 80th minute, the Dinos were rewarded for their stellar effort. Off a corner kick by Singh, Ramos corralled the ball and put it past Victoria goalkeeper Dan Kilpatrick with his knee to give the Dinos the one-nil victory.
"We have struggled on offence [this season] but that comes with maturity," said Jenkyns. "It's been a long process, but the more you play the more comfortable you get. The goals will come."
It was clear that coach Andy Gibbs's squad has matured over the course of a tough season. Picking up four points out of a possible six against some of the toughest competition in the country bodes well for next year's campaign and should give the Dinos an added boost of confidence as they wrap up the 2008 season next weekend with games against the University of Alberta Golden Bears and University of Saskatchewan Huskies.