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What it takes to be Canada’s leading scorer with All-Canadian Steph Roberts Steph Robert’s outstanding fourth season leads the McMaster women’s soccer team to nationals for the first time since 1997

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Photo by Kyle West

Steph Roberts’ fourth season on the McMaster women’s soccer team was nothing short of spectacular. She ended the Ontario University Athletics regular season leading the nation with 14 goals in 16 regular season conference games, adding two OUA athlete of the week awards, an OUA First-Team All-Star nod and U Sports October Female athlete of the month to her accolades on the season.

But before she was the Roberts McMaster fans know and love, she was the one girl playing amongst the boys. Soccer was her first sport like it is for a lot of kids, but something about Roberts was different. When she began to take focus on soccer, doors began to open up and she even considered playing down south, but ultimately it was McMaster that checked off all the boxes for Roberts.

“I always knew I wanted to work in Canadian law and politics,” said the political science major. “So it made more sense for me to do my education in Canada, and when I came to visit McMaster, I immediately fell in love with the campus.”

With quite a few players leaving in Roberts’ first year, she knew she would have plenty of time on the field doing what she loved, and that sold it for her. Roberts spent her first two years up front as forward, and her third year as a midfielder. Following the summer going into her fourth year, she made the switch back to forward and went on to have her best season to date.

“The transition was definitely a little bit hard to get used to, but playing forward in summer helped me stay ready,” said Roberts. “As a forward, you have to have that confidence and mindset that you are going to score every game, unlike at midfield. But with the extra practice and past experience, it wasn’t that hard to find that confidence within myself again.”

The smart decision to move Roberts up this season was courtesy of head coach Joe Valvasori, who was brought in last season. For Roberts, besides changing positions, one of the main differences this year is the team’s culture.

“It’s been an amazing year and we’re just so super supportive of each other,” said Roberts. “In the past, the culture has not been like the way it is now. Our new coach Joe is to thank for that. He has really changed the culture and brought us together.”

That shift in culture gave the team an 8-3-5 regular season record that booked them a spot in the OUA Final Four for the first time since 2012. Unfortunately for Roberts, a miss in penalty kicks after a 1-1 game against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees ended the OUA gold dreams for the Marauders. But with a spot at nationals still on the line, Roberts found it within herself to come out strong in the bronze medal match the next day.

“After I missed the penalty kick, it felt like a disappointment, but I knew we still had a chance at nationals so we had to leave it all on the line,” said Roberts. “We had to win every single tackle and every single loose ball because it could be our last game. So we came out and gave it everything we had.”

And that they did, as the Marauders demolished the Queen’s University Gaels 3-0, with two of the goals coming from Roberts herself. Her stellar performance booked the team a trip to the national championship for the first since 1997 and got her a spot on the U Sports All-Canadian Second Team.

Winning accolade after accolade, it can be hard for one to stay humble in a team sport like soccer, but for Roberts, she keeps just that in mind: there is no “I” in “team”.

“A lot of times, forwards do get a lot of praise, but soccer is such a team sport and you can’t win with one player,” said Roberts. “I always try to keep in mind that without my team, I would be nothing.”

For the first match of the national championships, the Marauders came out strong and were able to hold off the defending national champions, the Université de Montréal Carabins, scoreless for the entire match. Tied at zero, it was during the extra time that a Carabins’ own goal sealed Montréal’s fate, thanks to an explosive kick from Marauders’ Jade Smith.

For Roberts, this kind of thrilling match being played in her hometown of Ottawa was a dream come true.

“To be able to go to nationals in my hometown is one of the best parts,” said Roberts. “To have all my family and friends’ [support] that can never come to Hamilton is really exciting.”

However, Roberts was not the only one with a home crowd cheering for them. After defeating the Carabins, they faced the Gee-Gee’s for the second time in the postseason at home, which is no easy task.

Ottawa managed to hold the Marauders off 2-0 for the first half of the game, until Mac’s Lindsay Bosveld brought the deficit to 2-1. Unfortunately for the Marauders, the Gee-Gee’s had more in store, managing to score twice more before eventually defeating the Marauders in a crushing 4-1 loss.

Once again, the Marauders had to fight for bronze, this time against the Cape Breton University Capers. Unfortunately, a 48th minute goal by the Capers proved to be the winner in a tight game, leaving the Marauders to finish in fourth place in the tournament.

Though this not how Roberts and the Marauders would have wanted to return to Hamilton, every accomplishment they made this season are accomplishments that will be remembered for a long time.

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Author: Jessica Carmichael

Sharing the same birthday but not the same salary as Houston Rockets' Chris Paul, Jessica spends most of her days not practicing her free throw. In addition to studying communications and media, Jessica dedicates the majority of her time to flag football and watching an endless amount of sports documentaries. Looking for her own Last Chance U pet project, Jessica is committed to covering sports beyond the box score and faceless stats.