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Soccer X-Women turn sights to next season

St. F.X. all-star forward Amanda Smith, left, battles Memorial SeaHawks’ defender Jamie King during the AUS women’s championships earlier this month. CONTRIBUTED BY VAUGHAN MERCHANT
St. F.X. all-star forward Amanda Smith, left, battles Memorial SeaHawks’ defender Jamie King during the AUS women’s championships earlier this month. CONTRIBUTED BY VAUGHAN MERCHANT - Corey LeBlanc

Heartbreaking OT playoff loss to Memorial ends campaign

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

ANTIGONISH, N.S. — Graham Kennedy describes the St. F.X. X-Women program as “up-and-coming.”
“We have a great foundation to build on,” the varsity head coach said.
A heart-breaking quarter-final loss to the Memorial SeaHawks in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championship tournament did nothing to erase the quality regular season for the Blue and White.
With 13 new players on the roster, the X-Women finished third in the conference, posting a 7-0-5 record. It is only the third the program has gone undefeated in the regular season.
“We had an excellent season from that perspective,” Kennedy said.
The X-Women received strong performances throughout the season, including “right up the spine.”
“We were exceptional. I think we have the strongest spine in the league,” Kennedy said, while crediting the Capers and Axewomen for their strength in that area.
Between the pipes, first-year X-Women Alyssa Spridgeon and Christina Gentile were key contributors in that area.
“I think they are the best goalkeeping pair in the conference (MUN), right now, and that is absolutely critical in our conference,” Kennedy noted.
St. F.X. led the league in shutouts (eight) and allowed only eight goals.
Larissa White, a fifth-year senior and AUS first-team all-star nod, was also a key component to that ‘spine.’ This season, after missing most of 2018 with a knee injury, she made the switch from midfield to defender.
“She had a fantastic season,” Kennedy said, noting her “flawless transition” to a playmaking centre back.
Fourth-year midfielder Mercy Myles garnered another AUS first-team spot, while sophomore forward Amanda Smith made the squad for the first time. Both contributed mightily to that X-Women strength up the middle.
“She is a perennial All-Canadian,” Kennedy said of the Accra, Ghana native, who garnered a second-team nod for the 2019 campaign.
Smith, a first-team All-Canadian, finished second in the conference with 11 regular-season goals.
“Amanda had a breakout year,” Kennedy said.
He added freshmen defenders Sarah Lapensee and Tehya Blake showed flashes of “great potential.”
Sydney Haws (midfield),     Brittany Pigat (forward) and Hannah Engdahl-Hawach (defender) – all freshmen, also showed they have bright futures with the program.
And there is also freshman midfielder Talia Morin, who tallied the lone X-Women goal in the 2-1 playoff setback to Memorial. 
“She is going to be a firecracker of a player for us,” Kennedy said.

Key mistakes 
Speaking of that season-ending defeat, the 2019 AUS coach of the year said it came down “to two or three key errors in the final five minutes.”
“We didn’t manage the game properly,” Kennedy added.
He noted that reflected the “youth and inexperience” of the X-Women.
Kennedy said the weather conditions didn’t help.
“It was also extremely windy,” he added.
To illustrate that point, he said his players had trouble hearing him when he shouted out instructions.
“We had the game in hand,” Kennedy added, noting the team had a 1-0 edge in the 92nd minute.
As for those key mistakes, he said they were ones those players “normally wouldn’t make.”
“I think it was the pressure of the moment, along with having the mindset that we had the game won. It is something that we will learn from,” Kennedy added.

Next season     
When it comes to the X-Women roster for next season, he said “we are not expecting a huge turnover.”
White is the only player with no eligibility remaining, while there are some fourth-years who have “decisions to make,” when it comes to whether or not to return to the program.
On the recruiting trail, the X-Women already have commitments from two players, including Calgary goalkeeper Jordyn Pratt, while two more are “on the radar,” according to Kennedy.
“That’ll probably be it,” he said of the 2020 recruiting class.
Kennedy noted there are already five players lined-up for the 2021 season.
“We are pleased with the direction [of our program],” he said.
Coupled with going injury free and improving fitness levels, he added the X-Women could become a “threat to win the conference every year.”
He also noted the parity in the conference, while mentioning the quality and talented programs at Memorial, Acadia, Dalhousie, Cape Breton and UNB.
“Our league is getting stronger and stronger — every year, and there are more and more quality players,” Kennedy said.

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