Valeria Rojas was the left-handed ace that led Canada to a 23-8 victory over the Czech Republic at the 2019 Summer Universiade at Casoria Community Pool on Sunday. Rojas scored five goals for Canada, who will next face Hungary for a battle for the top of Pool A.
In addition to Rojas’ five goals, Peggy Jean Allin and Brianna Utas scored three goals each, while six other Canadians each scored two.
“We wanted to come out with a strong start and I think we just needed to get pace and get our game going,” said Rojas, who had a slow start to the game. “The back and forth (first half) showed us that this wasn’t going to be an easy game, so we need to get our tempo up and work as a team to get it going and get the goals up.”
“Being a lefty is pretty unique and it’s a big advantage to have. I’m able to help be a playmaker more and have an opportunity to give a nicer shot that goalies won’t expect as much.”
It was an exciting opening quarter, as Rojas opened the scoring on a short-side shot but captain Karolina Hlavata evened the score on a penalty shot moments later. Rojas had a hard shot blocked by Czech Republic goalie Barbora Pavlikova but the rebound returned to Rojas who delivered from close range for a 2-1 Canadian lead. Hlavata was lethal from long range with three minutes to go in the quarter to tie the game 2-2, while Canada scored four unanswered goals to bring their lead to 6-2 by the start of the second.
It was again a back-and-forth start to the second quarter, as Hlavata’s deceptive shot beat Canadian goalie Rachel Jaffe to bring Czech Republic back to just 6-3. Canadian Daphné Guèvremont scored her second of the game on a distance shot in response but Hlavata added another for the Czechs, who trailed 7-4. Canada continued to push their lead with goals from Alexandra Massier, Erica Hardy, Utas and Rojas. Jaffe made some key saves to preserve the lead as Canada enjoyed an 11-5 advantage heading in to halftime.
“We knew it could be difficult if we did not start by being super focused, and we were not at the beginning,” said Canadian head coach Cyril Dorgigné. “This game has allowed us to build confidence as we will start playing against the big teams.”
In the third quarter, Canada out-scored the Czech Republic 6-1, as Canada’s Allin scored two, while Utas, Rojas, Hardy and Verica Bakoc each got on the board with a goal. Hlavata added her fourth goal of the game on a Czech Republic penalty to send the game in to the final frame at 17-6 in favour of Canada.
Canada added five goals from five different scores to start the final quarter. Karolina Javurkova added one for the Czech Republic, despite Kelsey Jensen doing a quality job in the Canadian goal to organize her team to minimize any shots. Canada took the game by a dominating final score of 23-8 to pick up their third win of the tournament.
“I think this really boosted up our confidence to get going from the next games that are coming,” added Rojas. “We are going to keep pushing and keep going with our strong play.”
Canada (3-0) play their final preliminary match against the undefeated Hungary (3-0) in Pool A, on Monday in Casoria at 7:30 a.m. EDT / 4:30 a.m. PDT (1:30 p.m. local) at Casoria Community Pool.
“It will be a very physical match, they are very fast, they press a lot, they move very quickly in attack, so we will have to be organized,” said Dorgigné about Hungary. “We will have to resist the pressure and impose our game. If we are good in attack, we will eliminate their counterattack and it will be much easier for us to stay in the game.”