Gryphons tough it out to prevail in season opener

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – The defending OUA champion Guelph Gryphons withstood playing a third of the game short a player as they opened their regular season with a 2-0 victory over the Windsor Lancers Friday night at the Gryphon Soccer Complex.

“That’s not an easy thing at all,” Gryphon coach Shayne Campbell said. “I just said to the girls that it was a real test of character because it can become very difficult to manage. They score one quick and it’s a 2-1 game and that puts a lot of stress on the rest of the players, but I think we have a real calm, collected group and their experience showed in that moment today. I think that’s the thing I’m most impressed with.”

“It’s hard,” Gryphon forward Tori Hinchliffe said. “You only ever practice 10 out players and your goalie. You ever only practice 11 players on the field so when one gets taken, your whole formation just gets taken away. You have to quickly think on the field how you change and defend against a man down. It puts a lot of pressure and you have to stay really committed and focused to your spot. You can’t do too much running. You can’t over-commit to a ball. You have to be very disciplined in that situation.”

The Gryphs found themselves having to play shorthanded after midfielder Ann-Carolyn Lang was sent off after being shown a yellow card and a red card in the 62nd minute. Fortunately for the Gryphons, that came about a minute after Hinchliffe had connected on a penalty kick to put the hosts ahead by two.

“The thing with Windsor is that they are always good on the counterattack,” Campbell said. “They always have that ability to take a moment and come right back down and score one so we were always aware of that counterattack possibility and we wanted to manage the game from that perspective right from the opening whistle. That’s what they really can do to you.”

The game was similar to the preceding men’s match, also won 2-0 by the Gryphons, as the women scored on a free kick and a penalty kick, just as the men had done in their win.

However, the women scored a goal in each half while both of the men’s goals had come in the second half.

Katya Tarasoff hit on a lovely free kick in the 21st minute to give the Gryphons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“Our game was about managing it and waiting for our opportunities,” Campbell said. “(We had to) just be patient because in these games you have to be patient for that moment to come. I thought we were close to getting through a couple of times, but Kat finishing with that great free kick was just an excellent way to start. I think from there it settled us and we really started to control the game at times.”

Fifth-year goalkeeper Libby Brenneman didn’t have much work to do to record her first shutout of the season and 20th in a Gryphon uniform. She made one save.

Guelph native Hinchliffe had a big sigh of relief as she left the field following the first game of her third year with the Gryphons. She’d been the OUA West rookie of the year in her first season when she scored nine times, but was limited to a pair of goals last season.

“I had a rough start to the season last year,” she said. “Coming off my rookie year, I just wasn’t getting the bounces that I wanted so I’m hoping that it helps carry me through the season. It definitely helped me get muscle memory and the confidence I need to score.”

Last season, Hinchliffe was hindered by a knee injury that kept her out of the lineup a couple of games, but she was always been deadly on penalty kicks as she showed in last year’s OUA playoffs when she scored the game-winner on penalty kicks in both the semifinals and the championship game.

“I had so many knee issues,” she said. “I don’t have the knee pads right now. Hopefully they stay away and they’ve retired, but we’ll see.”

Hinchliffe got a good indication of how things might go this season when she was the leading scorer with 18 goals in 15 games in the Ontario Women’s Soccer League’s Provincial Elite league playing for Guelph Soccer Club’s Gryphons. That team is very similar to the university’s varsity team.

“The good nucleus of it is, for sure,” Campbell said. “But we have players coming in from a variety of different places so it takes a little while to gel and it’s going to take us a little bit to have those moments to really understand where everyone’s running and how people want that pass. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but I’m confident in the group that they can do that.”

“It helps being together all the time and just being familiar with everyone’s plays and what everyone wants and everything, but a lot of people don’t play (on the summer team),” Hinchliffe said. “It’s kind of nice getting the change so that other teams don’t know what to expect because we play a lot of teams in the summer that we play in season. It’s nice having some secret weapons that they don’t always see.”

For the U of G Gryphs, the game was their fourth in nine days as they had two wins and a loss in three preseason matches, all away from the Royal City. Next up will be a home match against the Western Mustangs (1-0-0) Sunday at 1 p.m.