It must have felt awful. The worst possible nightmare became reality and, in the blink of an eye, all was lost. The Dinos squad saw their first defeat of the season, saw their hated rivals from Alberta triumph, and when it mattered most, suffered every soccer player's greatest fear, a loss on penalty shots.
The University of Calgary's women's soccer team not only carried their perfect record to the Canada West Championships in Victoria, they also brought their high hopes. And why not? The Dinos were undefeated, had the best defence and goaltending in the league, and were ready and eager to prove they could win. The hype of only allowing three goals in a 10 game season made the Dinos obvious favourites, and must have been very nerve-wracking. But an even bigger challenge may have been living up to the shadows of the national champion team from 1998.
The women stepped onto the field on Saturday morning and played Alberta as well as they could. They controlled the tempo, they got their chances, but when all was said and done the score stood at 1-1, and the game went into extra time.
The 30 minutes of added play solved nothing, and it would come down to penalty shots, perhaps the most excruciating and questionable contest in all of sport. It all came down to one goal, a goal which ended the Dinos season and shattered their dreams of a national championship.
It took seven shots a side to finally sway the contest in favour of the Pandas, but the real heartbreak came the third time the referee placed the ball 12 yards in front of Dinos All-Star goalie Taryn Swiatek. The shot sailed towards the net but Swiatek pounced on it and saved Calgary's season. "Not quite," said the referee. He saw Swiatek move off the line a tad too early and put the ball on the spot to give Alberta another chance. Once again, the ball flew at the Calgary net but Swiatek made another save. Smiles of relief went up all around but the referee once again made the same call. Twice in a row a Dinos save was disallowed, and Alberta would get their third crack at the net. Three was a lucky number for our neighbours from the north, and that goal would be the difference in the end result.
The Dinos lost the game 2-1 on penalties, and their hopes were crushed in the worst possible way. They won the bronze the next day in a 3-1 defeat of the University of British Columbia, but it hardly seemed to matter.
It's hard to shake the feeling that this team deserved more. Their talent and calm, calculated style of play should have carried this team past Alberta and into the Canada West finals against the rival University of Victoria That battle would have been epic, but now Victoria is going on to nationals while the Dinos go home to think about their loss and hope for redemption next season.
Calgary will only lose one player this year, but it's maybe the most important one. Team captain Juliamai Giffen will not return next year, having played out her last year of eligibility. Her consistent presence in the backline and her leadership ability will be sorely missed by her teammates and coach.
But despite losing a major part of the Dinos league-leading defence, there are certainly high hopes for next season. Conference all-star and leading scorer Leanne Pelosi will return for her final year, as will Laura Stinson and Jessie Norrie. Canada West MVP Swiatek will be in net, and once again she'll be the last line of defence for the Dinos. And all the young players who did so well this season will come back with another year of experience under Head Coach Robin Slot. There is certainly a lot of hope for the soccer program, but this year's bitter disappointment will be very hard to forget.