A last-minute comeback effort fell short as the University of Saskatchewan Huskie women’s soccer team dropped a tightly fought contest against the Alberta Pandas by a score of 2-1, on a snow-covered pitch inside Nutrien Park on Sept. 22.

“Definitely happy with the character of our young team to persevere.  It was a tough day, the conditions didn’t allow us to play the way we wanted to play. Alberta is the number one team in our division for a reason, they are mature, experienced and very physical,” said Huskie head coach Jerson Barandica-Hamilton. “It was a tough game for us, but our girls never stopped believing and unfortunately we came up just a little bit short.”

The loss was the first of the 2018 campaign for the Huskies, as they now sit at 0-1-4. While Alberta remains undefeated, moving to a 5-0-0 with the victory.

Brenna Mattiello and Anna Dunn tallied for the visitors with Payton Izsak scoring the lone goal for Saskatchewan.

Alberta head coach Liz Jespen was proud of her teams play, as they came into enemy territory and took away three points with them.

“Without question, it was a gritty performance. The girls battled, the conditions weren’t in anyone’s favour and there were good moments for both teams. But at the end of the day, we were able to get the ball up into those dangerous areas and capitalize,” Jepsen said.

The Pandas were looking to get onto the board early, as seven minutes into the match midfielder Morgan Corbett freed up inside the box and the ball found her foot, but her strike was stopped by Huskie goalie Jadyn Steinhauer, keeping the match knotted at zeroes.

Steinhauer was tested again just minutes later after a turnover on a goal kick, but the third-year keeper recovered well, shutting down Nicole Palladino on a grade-A scoring opportunity for Alberta.

In the 22nd minute, the Pandas were forced down to ten players after Sydney Daines received a red card for her sliding tackle on Steinhauer, sending Daines off the pitch for the remainder of the match.

The snowy conditions played a factor in the first half stats as the Huskies were unable to record a shot on net through the first 45 minutes, while Alberta was held to four with each being stopped by Steinhauer, keeping the teams on level terms at the half time break.

The Huskies started to use their numbers advantage to their benefit in the second half, as Maya Gabruch neatly played a ball across to Taniel Gay who displayed her blazing speed and made a run down the line. However, Gay’s cross into the box went untouched and the Pandas were able to clear the ball from the area.

Despite being short a man, the Pandas displayed great resilience to hold off the Huskies, and in the 76th minute they were rewarded for their efforts, as Dunn found Mattiello in the box who made no mistake, elevating her strike over top of Steinhauer’s outstretched arms.

Alberta was quick to add an insurance marker which would prove to be pivotal, as in the 80th minute, Steinhauer’s clearance deflected off the leg of a defender, and fell right to the second-half substitute Dunn who tapped it into the open net to go up 2-0, as the third-year striker added a goal after assisting on the Pandas first marker.

In the 89th minute, the Huskies were able to break the Pandas clean sheet when a nifty ball from Gay was headed home by Izsak who produced last-minute magic for the second straight week after her equalizer forced a tie against MacEwan on Sept. 14. However, unfortunately, for Saskatchewan, it was too little too late, as they fell short in their comeback efforts.

“What a finish, a beautiful diving header and she showed good composure to keep the ball down. Payton came in, battled and worked hard to defend and help us in the midfield, I’m super happy with her performance,” Barandica-Hamilton said.

Despite the loss, Barandica-Hamilton was impressed with his squad’s performance and hopes it will carry over to the second half of their home stretch this weekend.

“I love the battle and intensity that we showed, for a young group that is the character that we want to see. I’m proud of the girls, it’s not the result that we wanted but we will come back tomorrow and be ready to go,” Barandica-Hamilton said.

The Huskies will continue their homestand when they play host to the Mount Royal Cougars on Sept. 23 at 12 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium inside Nutrien Park. While the Pandas will also play their second game in as many days, staying in Saskatchewan to take on the University of Regina Cougars.