Story By: Thomas Becker
There are no secrets between the UPEI Panthers and Acadia Axewomen. They know each other all too well.
And on Friday night, they'll renew their rivalry as they battle it out for a place in the AUS finals.
"I don't have to tell them too much," said head coach John LaBoyne. "There's a lot at stake and the players have a belief in themselves that last year's (semifinal) game brought forward."
You may have heard this story already, that's because this season was a carbon copy of the 2016 campaign – the 4-2 Axewomen host the 2-4 Panthers for the right to play against the national champions St. FX X-Women. However, the Panthers hope to change the narrative this time around and be the team that advances instead.
"These girls are fire breathing dragons, it doesn't matter who we're playing," the bench boss said. "They're going out there fighting to win."
There's no denying UPEI plays the part of the underdog, as the Axewomen head into the game with plenty of confidence having outscored them 113-22. But LaBoyne asks just one thing out of his players heading into Friday.
"Do what you do best and let the chips fall where they may," he said. "Make good decisions and give it your all."
In recent weeks, LaBoyne has shaken up his lineup, moving pieces around to yield the best result and he's hoping it will payoff on the season's biggest stage. Alysha Corrigan was one of those players who shifted positions and has become the team tactician as the fly-half. Corrigan led the team with 40 points on three tries and 11 conversions during the season and figures to be a vital piece if the Panthers are to come away with the win.
"Anytime Alysha Corrigan has her hands on the ball, good things happen."
For Corrigan and her teammates, the key may be as simple as playing the best match of their lives.
"To get that win against Acadia, everybody needs to know their role and execute it," said the reigning AUS Athlete of the Week. "We have to be better than the person wearing that number on the other side of the field."
In the Oct. 7 match against those same Axewomen, the Panthers held their own for the better part of the first half. However, a series of missed opportunities to put points on the board gave Acadia all the momentum they needed and wound up costing UPEI the game.
"The players understand what we did in that first 25-30 minutes and they're taking that confidence with them and nurturing it as we move forward," LaBoyne said.
In that moment, fans saw a hardnosed team capable of playing with one of the best. And if that mindset translates to a full 80 minutes, then there's a real opportunity for an upset in the making.