Cowichan’s Nicole Pugh collects the ball deep in the Gorge end during her team’s season opener at the Sherman Road turf last Friday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Cowichan’s Nicole Pugh collects the ball deep in the Gorge end during her team’s season opener at the Sherman Road turf last Friday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Cowichan United runs with the big guns

Women’s soccer team holds its own against defending Div. 1 champs

A different kind of season got underway for Cowichan United and the rest of the Lower Island Women’s Soccer Association last weekend.

Following COVID-19 guidelines from BC Soccer, LIWSA has split its leagues into smaller cohorts to start the 2020-21 season. A Div. 2 club last year, Cowichan United is playing this season in a group with higher-level teams, including two Premier league clubs and last year’s Div. 1 champions, Gorge United.

“The competition is going to be much stiffer this year, due to the league putting us in a group with all higher-division teams,” Cowichan coach Adam Paulson noted. “The ladies are up for it though; we are looking at this year as a way to test ourselves against better competition and an opportunity to see where we need to get to, in order to move up the leagues ourselves.”

Cowichan opened the unusual campaign with a home date against Gorge United. The visiting team left with a 2-1 victory, but the hosts showed they aren’t out of their league in the new format.

“I was extremely happy with the effort the ladies put in,” Paulson said. “No one’s head dropped after we went down a couple, and we could have easily come out of the game with a result.”

Gorge came out strong, putting a press on Cowichan early. After shaking off some early nerves, Cowichan settled into the game and the two teams traded chances.

“Madison Thomas had been terrorizing the Gorge defence, pressing them and creating turnovers,” Paulson commented. “And was rewarded with a partial breakaway for Cowichan, but couldn’t find a path past the Gorge goalie and the trailing defenders.”

Gorge broke through the stubborn Cowichan defence to open the scoring in the 22nd minute, then doubled the lead 10 minutes later with a long shot that caught Cowichan goalkeeper Tiara Enger off her line. Refusing to give up, Cowichan nearly got one back before halftime when some quick passes set up Seleana Jack at the corner of the 18-yard box. Jack unleashed a powerful shot that just flashed over the crossbar, and Gorge carried their 2-0 lead into the break.

Cowichan centre midfielder Nicola Mawson led the way in the second half as her team refused to give Gorge the space they needed to operate. Any forays into the box were dealt with quickly by defenders Sam Walker and Kristina Biello, who finished the match with more than 10 blocks between them.

Cowichan also managed to create some offence midway through the second half. Kyla Pronk sent a cross into the Gorge box that their goalie tried to cut off. She took her eye off the ball to check Cowichan striker Nicole Pugh and missed the cross. Pugh calmly collected the cross and slotted it into the open net.

Although Cowichan pressed for the tying goal, Gorge refused to buckle and held on for the one-goal victory.

Cowichan United will be back in action this weekend at home to Prospect Lake.