TORONTO - The stellar career of Andrea Raso came to an end on Wednesday evening at Varsity Centre. After leading the Rams to one of their best seasons in program history, the only female CIS all-Canadian that a Ryerson team has ever produced walked off the field as a Ram for the last time after her squad fell 3-0 to the Toronto Varsity Blues in the first round of the OUA playoffs.
Three different Varsity Blues got their name on the score sheet for Toronto, who pulled away in the second half after holding a slim 1-0 lead at halftime.
"I guess I'm speechless," said Raso following the contest. "We were psyched for this game, everybody was focused and wanted to win."
The Etobicoke, Ont. native stated that this was the biggest game of her sparkling five-year career. "We gave it our all and pushed to the end," she said. "But we didn't get the result."
In attendance was Director of Athletics Dr. Ivan Joseph, who only had the highest praise for one of the most decorated athletes at Ryerson and one who is arguably a shoe-in for the Athletics Hall of Fame.
"I've had the privilege of coaching many great women's players, she's one of the best I've had the opportunity to observe," said Joseph. "She's one of those players whose left the program better than she found it, and I think she went out on a high note."
The Blues nearly opened the scoring in just the second minute off a corner, but Christina Lovatsis (Markham, Ont.), who was standing at the near post, saved the ball off the line and out of play to keep the game scoreless early on.
The Rams then took a blow after rookie Sarah Slattery (St. Catharines, Ont.) went down to injury early on in the match.
The centre-back, who has been a rock in defense the whole year, was a significant loss for the women, and the Blues capitalized soon after when Mel Bowen broke past the Rams defenders in the 18th minute onto a through pass made by Eilish McConville. The West Vancouver native lobbed the ball over a sliding Lauren LaSalle (Barrie, Ont.) and into the back of the net to put Toronto up 1-0.
The best chance of the half for Ryerson came with under 10 minutes to go when Raso took a free kick from just outside the box with a narrow angle to the net on the left side. She swung the ball in short side, and her shot grazed off the outside of the left post.
Toronto responded with another corner opportunity just before halftime. The Blues were inches from tallying their second of the match, but Elyse Hanec (Calgary, Alta.) cleared the ball off the goal line, allowing her team to head into halftime down by just one goal.
The Rams earned a free kick early in the second, and a cross by Diana Smiciklas was just missed on an attempted touch by Kendra Welham. The Oakville, Ont. native, who was Ryerson's leading scorer this year, also donned a Rams jersey for the final time on Wednesday.
McConville then put the Blues in a great position to score just off the right corner of the box after she forced a foul from Amy Tahmizian (Aurora, Ont.).
The ensuing free kick was nearly put away, but Raso, defending the goal line, put her body in harm's way to prevent the marker. LaSalle was quick to pounce on the rebound.
The Blues would not be denied their insurance marker. Minutes later, McConville found Aisha Lewis in the front of goal with a quick pass. Lewis had an easy tap-in to give Toronto some breathing room with 20 minutes left in the contest.
McConville sealed the Toronto victory minutes later with an incredible shot from well outside the 25 yard-line that tipped off the bottom of the crossbar and came down behind the goal line.
Soccer Co-ordinator Kevin Souter was happy with the team's effort despite their elimination from the post-season.
"I thought they played excellent," said Souter. "We had 20 minutes in the second half of good play but couldn't capitalize. We know U of T was going to get good opportunities. They're a tough team."
Souter shared Joseph's sentiment on the five-foot dynamo Raso. "Andrea is a great leader, excellent captain and will be greatly missed," he said. "She's left a legacy here."
For Raso, who recorded 19 goals in her five seasons with Ryerson, there are two reasons for sadness. "I'm no longer going to wear a Ryerson jersey," she explained. "The other (reason) is that I've learned a lot from the coaches and players, and I wish I could stay a couple more years and learn from them more. The program is just at the beginning, and I don't doubt that next year they'll make it past this point."
The former OUA rookie of the year and Ryerson Female Athlete of the Year has been vocal throughout the fall about how positive her experience has been at Ryerson, and in her final post-game interview, nothing changed.
"I can't even describe my time here," she said. "Every year something great happened. Everybody had an impact on my life here at Ryerson. I'm going to miss it."
The women finished the regular season with a team-record six victories, and Souter is looking forward to recruiting in the off-season to compliment what he believes is an already strong squad.
"The future is bright for this program," he said.
In fitting fashion, Raso was recognized one last time in her university career on Wednesday evening in the misty rain at Varsity Centre. She was named Ryerson's player of the match.