Women’s Semifinals – 12:00 PM, Saturday, October 29th
#1 Red River College Rebels versus #4 Providence University College Pilots
A player for fans and the Pilots’ defence to watch is Rebels first year winger, Julia Friesen. Friesen showed up on just about every scoresheet she saw this season and was named last week’s MCAC Athlete of the Week for her exceptional play in Week 6. She was the lone Rebel to score in Red River’s draw with Brandon University last week, but the exceptional tending of the net by keeper Brittany Derkacz may be the biggest hurdle to clear for Red River’s competition. Derkacz gave up just 8 goals in 10 conference games this season, posting three-straight shutouts from mid-September through early October.
Julika Kehler proved to be a big part of PUC’s offense this season. The speedy striker was a constant threat during the Pilots’ 2-2 draw with CMU in Week 7, who when given the chance, can outrun just about any competition in the MCAC.
#2 Brandon University Bobcats versus #3 Universite de Saint-Boniface Les Rouges
With the RRC Rebels keeping a stranglehold on first-place for much of the season, Brandon University and the fledgling Universite de Saint-Boniface women’s soccer programs were never too far from each other in the MCAC standings. Just like the men’s division, the women’s MCAC standings had a great deal of parity all the way to the very last game of the season. Universite de Saint-Boniface fielded a women’s team this season for the first time in eight years and they have to be pleased to crack the conference Final Fours already. What the head coach of both the men’s and women’s soccer and futsal programs at USB, Justin Legare, has been able to get out of a brand new roster against a very competitive field is impressive.
To use the aforementioned Rebels as a barometer of success in the 2016 MCAC season, when they last visited USB on October 16th they were by no means walking over St. Boniface. Les Rouges were able to control the ball in and around dangerous areas of the box for Red River, and although St. Boniface gave up a 3-1 decision, they fared admirably against the #1 seed. BU have experience from past seasons in the MCAC Final Fours but they must not overlook a young and well-versed lineup in USB.
The two teams last saw each other on October 1st and October 15th this season, BU winning 2-0 and 3-0, respectively. Brandon had a very successful MCAC season that saw them lose no games and record 3 draws and 7 wins. They play the more difficult semifinal matchup because they had just one more draw on their record than first-place RRC, whom the Bobcats saw and lost to in last year’s wild Championship Final match. But you can be sure that Head Coach Rainer Schira will have his team focusing on the here-and-now come Saturday afternoon as the Bobcats try to return to the Final.
Men’s Semifinals – 2:15 PM, Saturday, October 29th
#1 Universite de Saint-Boniface Les Rouges #4 Providence University College Pilots
If the Pilots have an advantage over Les Rouges, it’s that they have been playing meaningful games as far as rankings are concerned for most of the season. PUC’s 1-1 draw with Canadian Mennonite University last weekend gave them a last crucial point to tie Brandon University in the MCAC standings, and therefore granted the Pilots a playoff birth as they beat BU in both of their contests this season.
Providence hung with #3-ranked CMU on Sunday, winning challenges and 50/50 balls with a mix of speed and effort. This may not be the most individually talented roster in the conference, but Providence plays with a great deal of grit and hustle that most other teams lack. Perhaps no other Pilot embodies this more than 5’7” striker Herby Magny, who scored a pivotal goal against CMU on Sunday and possesses a physical side of the game that can intimidate a defence.
Les Rouges overtook the first-place ranking just this weekend when they finished the 2016 regular season with 23 points, two more than Red River College after the Rebels dropped their last game against Brandon University on Sunday. On paper, Universite de Saint-Boniface is extremely strong with a well-stocked roster full of talent. 6’2” Moroccan winger Yahia Chihab is having another remarkable season for USB, playing both directions of the field at an elite level. Second year centre-midfielder from Congo, Melchisedek Nkongo, also had an exceptional season for Les Rouges in just his second MCAC season. His speed and tenacity suits the talented roster of USB well, and had made Les Rouges that much more dangerous.
The physicality and speed of Providence should make for a very good semifinal against the agility and footwork of USB. Providence will have to work extremely hard to earn possession of the ball but working hard appears to be something the Pilots have in spades. These teams had much different seasons coming into this game but both are as equally deserving to have made the Final Four.
#2 Red River College Rebels versus #3 Canadian Mennonite University Blazers
After holding first-place for the month of October, the Rebels are probably wondering how they drew such a difficult matchup for their semifinal. But the fact is, the MCAC was an extremely close race this season and no team ever had much breathing room in the standings. Despite dropping their last game against BU, RRC played a very tidy season in front of head coach Yiannis Tsalatsidis. They found a good balance of scoring and defensive responsibility despite fielding a very young roster with only a handful of players with two or more years playing in the MCAC. The Rebels beat CMU and 3-0 and 3-1 in their two meetings this season, but the last meeting came on October 1st, nearly a month before they’ll see each other in this weekend’s semifinal. It’s to be expected that both teams have changed since, and playing a one-and-done game in the postseason is a much different task for either side. Without magnifying the 3-1 loss to BU in their final week too much, a loss is not exactly the way a team wants to wrap up their season. But keep in mind RRC hadn’t lost a match up until that point, going almost two months without losing a conference game.
CMU on the other hand fielded a group that is somewhat recognizable from last season’s team that made it to the Championship Final. Fifth-year defensive staples, Andrew Letkeman and Nick Czehryn, continue to drive the Blazers from the back end while fellow fifth-year Cole Johnson was a total nuisance for opposing defence this season. CMU has several other individual threats whom could be listed but it’s their overall strategy and movement as a unit that makes them so scrappy. Head coach Russell Willms has instilled a system that new additions have been able to thrive in while letting his more experienced players set the course. While the other semifinal looks to be a clash of different styles, RRC versus CMU looks like it could be an exceptional matchup between two very smart, well-rounded teams. Don’t be surprised if this one goes down to the wire.