By Chris Sanders
The Ryerson Rams women’s soccer team opened their regular season with a bang, defeating the UOIT Ridgebacks 1-0 on Aug. 25.
Ryerson’s victory marked their first win over the Ridgebacks since 2015; an OUA powerhouse who only lost two games last season. Better yet, their feat came without marquee head coach Ivan Joseph, who coached the Rams past their six year playoff drought, before departing from Ryerson to accept a new role with Dalhousie University months prior.
Having also lost striker and leading goal scorer Victoria Watson to a transfer, the Rams looked like they could’ve been headed for a down year. But with the win over the Ridgebacks, those worries have been put on hold, and their new head coach might be the reason for that.
Rookie head coach Natalie Bukovec has already started to make her presence felt, expressing the importance of structure when she first got to the team.
“Natalie has a big impact on the way our game has changed,” said Rams defender BreAnah Webster.
Webster’s counterpart and Rams goalkeeper Elisa Lapadula continued, “The coaches also give us a lot more freedom on the field, it allows to bring out our creativity.”
Opening kickoff saw the Ridgebacks test Ryerson’s defensive efforts. Dangerous opportunities nearly resulted in an early deficit against the home side. No matter how big the bend, the Rams wouldn’t break, firing back with fast paced counter attacks. This was no ordinary women’s squad for Ryerson; displaying an unseen resiliency that they lacked in previous years.
Three minutes before Ryerson would capitalize on one of their chances, Rams keeper Lapadula leaped off her line to make a momentum changing save.
Ryerson’s robust defence created a synergy that translated to numerous chances on goal. After knocking on wood at countless opportunities, their efforts were finally rewarded in the 29th minute. Using her pace down the line, Webster picked out a streaking Alex Rodkin in the box for a perfectly placed header to give the Rams a 1-0 lead heading into the half.
“I know everytime I go down that line she’s (Rodkin) always the one I’m looking for,” said Webster. “She’s going to do whatever it takes to get the goal.”
The second half started like the first. UOIT diligently held the majority of possession and created more chances doing so. The Rams would put the majority of their players on the defensive side of the ball to counter this, giving the Ridgebacks a tough time finding good looks in front of goal.
“We told them to keep what we’re doing,” said Rams assistant coach Nora Abolins. “UOIT came out strong, we had to adjust to defend that.”
Tiring down UOIT, the Rams utilized high aggression to cause frustration amongst their opponent, and it was effective. The Ridgebacks’ inability to score translated to reckless challenges and impatience.
Weather conditions didn’t do the players any favours, killing offensive rhythm for both sides and challenging the keepers to read the ball in unusual circumstances.
When it came down to the final minutes of play, everything was on the line for both teams. Fans gasped as the Rams held on for dear life. After the ball bobbled around Ryerson’s 18-yard box in the dying seconds, Lapadula stood on her head and made a plethora of saves to win the game and grab her first clean sheet of the season.
“Right down to the very last minute our girls fought with all their heart and soul,” said Abolins. “We worked together as a team. I’m so proud of the girls right now.”
UP NEXT: The Rams will take on Trent University on Aug. 26 at Downsview Park in their second and last game of their homestand. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.