LANGLEY — There is an old saying about how we are all essentially defined by our own unique ingredients.
Aliya Coy thought she had a pretty solid grasp of that concept when she graduated from Calgary’s Centennial High back in the spring of 2017.
As a budding chef and potential future restaurant owner, she had written what she thought would be her own recipe for success: A path through culinary school en route to a professional career spent in the finest kitchens donning a chef’s toque blanche.
It turns out, however, that her most essential ingredients, the ones which when combined with practice and self-belief have made her a U Sports soccer standout, where the ones that she had subconsciously pushed to the back of her figurative personal pantry.
Coy admits she’s still going to have time to wear one of those floppy white hats.
On Friday, however, the wannabe chef will hear her name called out over the public address system at Trinity Western’s Chase Office Field in what has now become her new identity.
That’s because Coy will make yet another start with her U Sports’ No. 1-ranked and host Spartans as they take on the Alberta Pandas in the opening game of the Canada West Final Four tournament.
UBC meets Calgary in the first Friday semifinal at 3 p.m., while Trinity Western faces Alberta at 6 p.m.
The two winners will qualify for the conference title Saturday, but more importantly, grab the Canada West’s two lone berths to the U Sports national championships Nov. 8-11 in Ottawa.
Incredibly, Trinity Western has advanced to the past seven conference championship games and have won four of them including last season.
That is a level of grandeur Coy couldn’t ever have imagined herself being a part of.
“Coming out of high school, I wasn’t even looking at playing post-secondary soccer,” admits Coy, a second-year defender.
But at a club tournament in Ottawa over her Grade 12 year, she bumped into a coach from that city’s Algonquin College who informed her that the local CCAA school not only had a soccer team, but a highly-respected culinary program to boot.
“He offered me a scholarship on the spot and I accepted,” laughs Coy. “I was a little naive.”
Yet it took something of a comical, 11th-hour intervention by her mom Angela before Coy finally realized she was good enough to play university soccer at any program in the nation.
“I guess she was very close to going to a small school in Ottawa when her mom reached out to me,” said Trinity Western head coach Graham Roxburgh, who subsequently flew out to Calgary to watch Coy play, and knew immediately that she was capable of contributing to the defence of a perennial U Sports national-title contender.
“She came in here with an attacking mindset but she is learning to play defence,” he continued. “She has brought a wonderful range of skills and we’re starting to see more of that as she grows and matures.”
Those accolades, in fact, are ingredients that the 5-foot-6 Coy just figured she didn’t ever have.
“I had lost my own flame and passion for soccer,” admits Coy who while making Alberta provincial teams at various stages of her youth career, also lost a lot personal confidence and joy through the politics of the sport.
“After everything, I guess I had just dumbed myself down to thinking I wasn’t good enough,” she continued. “But Graham has helped me re-ignite that flame. Soccer was always a huge part of my life, and I was ready to throw it all away.”
Thankfully for her career and the fortunes of the Spartans, she had an about-face.
After getting her feet wet in the early stages of 2017, Coy has started virtually ever game at left back, on the book-end side of Canada West first-team all-star Kristen Sakaki, the third-year Surrey-Lord Tweedsmuir grad.
“I was completely shocked,” admits Coy of assuming such a vital role with the Spartans when just a few months previous she was getting ready to pack her spatulas and egg-beaters for Ottawa. “I would get these texts each week from (associate coach) Erin (O’Driscoll) and that really helped to boost my confidence. I don’t know if I could have done it without her.”
So capable and coachable did Coy prove to be that she was part of a TWU starting defensive foursome — which also included Sakaki, Liz Hicks and Brooklyn Tidder — which not only helped the Spartans go 10-3-1 in the regular season, but fashion a 10-match shutout streak which was among the most impressive feats in the entire 2017-18 U Sports canon.
Of course, that foursome returned in tact this season, and en route to a 12-2-0 campaign in which they allowed just 14 goals, both Sakaki and Hicks (second-team) were both honoured as conference all-stars on a team led up front by Canada West Player of the Year Seina Kashima.
“The first thing that I noticed when I got here was the amount of time Brookyln and the girls would put in with me because I was joining them,” remembers a grateful Coy. “I had been a winger, so playing fullback was new to me. But they were willing to teach me, watch film with me, help me with my footwork, with throw-ins. They are still so willing to call me out in practice, to tell me when they need more from me, and that’s what makes us so strong as a group.”
For his part, Roxburgh knows the team’s back line, with its full compliment of depth, is a rotation that will continue to gain strength and chemistry, and Coy’s early level of success makes it all the more appealing.
“Our defence has been solid the last two years and they are growing into a mature unit,” says Roxburgh. “And we need to be good because Alberta is very good.”
What Coy also hopes is good, in the coming years, is her culinary life.
“When I came to Trinity Western I decided to major in kinesiology, but within the first semester I decided to change that,” she says, choosing courses which would enhance her restaurant career. “Now I am working on a corporate communications degree with half of it in communications and half of it in business. I’m still going to culinary school after I graduate. Then, I’m going to use both degrees.”
For her restaurant, of course.
“I am half Jamaican,” says Coy, “and growing up, my mom has cooked so many different foods, I love the idea of experimenting, so I try to eat something from every part of the world. Over the years, Greek has become my favourite food.”
Finally, she is in touch with all of her essential ingredients, and it all happened after Aliya Coy decided to put soccer first on her menu.
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