This is what the Dalhousie Rams have longed for.
For 11 years the Bible Hill campus’ women’s soccer team has been stuck on the sidelines while other teams competed for the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association (ACAA) title. But this Fall the Rams are the biggest, baddest kids on the block.
“As a team we are very excited,” coach Jackie Ryan said. “We haven’t been part of this tournament in over a decade and the players and coaching staff are looking forward to the atmosphere.”
The top-seeded Rams open the event Saturday at 10 a.m. in a semifinal matchup with the fourth seed, University of King’s Blue Devils in Saint John, N.B. The winner will move on to Sunday’s noon final.
“We have worked our hearts out this season to accomplish this goal,” 21-year-old striker Sian Rankin, said of qualifying for the event. “We will give it everything we’ve got to bring home the banner and make the school proud.”
It’s been a long journey to get here. The program struggled to replace the talent which left following the team’s last appearance in the tournament in 2006 until Ryan took over the coaching duties in 2012. The Stellarton resident tapped into her extensive list of connections in the sport and slowly began to piece together a winning side. The team improved each season under her tutelage until the Rams narrowly missed a berth, awarded to the top four teams in the conference at the end of the regular season, in the tournament last year by just a single point with a 5-7 record.
Sensing they were on the cusp of returning to the top end of the league, Ryan, the reigning conference coach of the year, added Truro native and former national program member Shanice Maxwell and former St. Francis Xavier midfielder Katie Walsh among others last summer and the Rams stormed to the top of the seven-team table with an 8-1-3 (W-L-T) standing this year.
“(Jackie) has done an excellent job of promoting our program and recruiting the right players,” Rankin, an Edmonton, Alta., native, said. “She has put together a group of players who really respect each other and compliment each other’s strengths. We never give up.”
The Rams head into the weekend on a roll with eight wins in their past 11 matches. Their lone loss came on opening day in a 3-1 decision to Holland College.
Rankin paced the Rams and was third in the conference with seven goals, while Maxwell was joint-top of the ACAA with three assists. Summer Nasr had great keeper stats, allowing just four goals over seven games.
Dalhousie AC put plenty of pressure on the opposition all season, leading the conference with 69 shots. Their 19 goals were second in the ACAA.
“True grit and hard work,” Rankin, a Bioveterinary Science student, said of the team’s key to success.
“We fought hard all season and we never gave up even if we were down by a goal or two.”
That’s a situation Dalhousie AC could find itself in this weekend. In spite of their success, the Rams know the competition are no pushovers and will bring their best to try to knock them out.
“As a team we just need to take a deep breath, relax and show up,” Ryan said. “Everyone has a chance to win and we just have to take it one game at a time.”
Rankin said it would be an amazing feeling to win the title and earn the Rams a spot in the national championship tournament Nov. 8 to 11 in Halifax.
“Winning the title would validate all the hard work and sacrifice we have put in through the years and would help us give a little back to the school.”