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Postseason bound: Martlets clinch playoff berth

There is something to be said for a team that gels at just the right time, and the McGill Martlet soccer team has found its time. Entering their contest against the UQAM Citadins (2-8-1), the Martlets (7-3-2) were riding an eight game unbeaten streak, dominating opponents in all aspects of the game. It was no different on Thursday, as McGill strolled to an impressive 4-0 victory at Molson Stadium, clinching their 26th consecutive RSEQ playoff berth.

After losing their first two division matches of the year, the Martlets have turned their season around. Head Coach Jose Valdes has noticed his team’s progression and attributed the shaky start to the transition to a new offensive and defensive system.

“We struggled to score early in the season but this was a result of the players adjusting to a new coaching staff with different systems being introduced [….] We [have been] able to adjust to a higher level of play and synchronize our play,” he said. “We are now seeing the payoff on the score sheet, and the team’s confidence level is high.”

The Martlets controlled the ball in the first half, en route to a 57 per cent possession advantage in the game. Following a few quality chances, McGill finally tallied a goal when junior midfielder Meghan Bourque sent one past UQAM goalkeeper Valérie Labbé in the 38th minute. This sparked some momentum as Bourque notched another just minutes later, giving the Martlets a 2-0 lead heading into halftime.

Bourque has been key for the Martlets all season both in terms of producing timely goals and proving to be a strong role model for the squad’s nine freshman.

“[Bourque], along with our two other captains Carolyn Bell and Kelsey Wilson, have been very good leaders on and off the field,” Valdes said. “They know what it takes to play at a high level in this league. They lead by example and show the way for our freshmen to develop a better work ethic.”

The Martlets started the second half with the same intensity they brought in the first 45 minutes. The team generated a number of fluid rushes, characterized by all three waves moving in tandem up the pitch. More impressively, McGill stifled almost every UQAM attack. The Citadins recorded just two shots on goal in the entire game.

Despite a light amount of action, Martlet goalkeeper Victoria Muccilli was key to the victory and collected her RSEQ-leading fifth clean sheet. She is finally healthy after a couple of injury plagued years, and has remained composed despite facing some competition from the two rookie Martlet goalkeepers. Valdes views it as healthy competition.

“We are the only team in our league that has played three different goalkeepers and I think that has proven to be beneficial for us,” he said. “They may both be young but have pushed [Muccilli] to earn every single one of her starts [….] We are very happy with the trio. They love working together.”

McGill maintained its pace through the rest of the match. Wilson put one past an injured Labbé, who went down while making a save. In the 83rd minute, Wilson rang a free kick off of the crossbar before senior defender Hannah Kirby headed the rebound into the back of the net. From there, the Martlets cruised to the 4-0 win.

With just two games remaining before the playoffs, the Martlets will look to maintain their strong defensive effort, having outscored opponents 21-2 during this nine-game undefeated stretch. However, the Martlets must ensure that they are prepared mentally as they head into the post-season. Lapses in focus will translate into lapses in play, something that can send a team packing in an elimination situation.

“We know that we are only good when we are focused and ready to play hard for a full 90 minutes,” Valdes noted. “We have had moments during games where we lost our rhythm without too many consequences. But when it comes down to the crunch, these little lapses may cost a playoff game, and the season will be over in a flash.”

The Martlets followed up their victory with a disappointing 2-1 loss against UQTR (3-8-1) on Sunday. They round up their home schedule against Bishop’s (2-10-0) on Friday night at 6:30 p.m., before wrapping up their regular season in Quebec City against Laval (8-3-1) on Sunday.

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