ABBOTSFORD — With the same clockwork precision she has shown at every key stage of her soccer career, Bryana Buttar has once again arrived ahead of her time.
“I definitely feel that my whole youth career has set me up for this,” the Fraser Valley Cascades’ dynamic midfielder remarked Wednesday of the opportunity she has seized to become an impact player within the Canada West as a pure freshman.
Do it the way Buttar has, by earning a starting midfield role and potting a team-leading three goals over UFV’s first six games of the conference campaign, and it’s even more rare, given the fact that U Sports’ five-year window of eligibility is the largest of any intercollegiate union on the continent.
Yet as the Cascades (2-2-2) wrapped up training here Wednesday morning in advance of its gargantuan Friday-Saturday homestand (7 p.m. both days, MRC Sports Complex) against Pacific Division heavyweights UBC (4-0-2, Friday) and Victoria (3-1-2, Saturday), no one could speak to the history of the talented rookie’s accelerated time line with more authority than UFV head coach Rob Giesbrecht.
“She was fearless as a Grade 6 playing against boys in Grade 8,” remembers Giesbrecht, now in his 10th season as Cascades’ head coach, but also eight seasons ago, Buttar’s coach at Abby Middle School’s then-fledgling soccer academy. “The tackles she was making back then were quite amazing. She has always been a warrior.”
That delivery process continued when as a 12-year-old, Buttar attended try-outs, and was later selected to Canada’s U15 girls team, where she started games and helped her country to a gold-medal finish at the CONCACAF championships.
Buttar was actually 13 when she competed in the event, held in the Canary Islands, but most of the other players around her were themselves a full two years older than she was.
Yet if making the transition to U Sports has been smooth, like Buttar always hoped it would be, she’s enough of a self-critic to never rest in the moment.
All of that, in fact, led to a most intense university debut this past August in a friendly at NCAA Div. 1 Eastern Washington.
Buttar was so intent on establishing her presence against the Eagles that she put a scare into the UFV coaching staff with her acts of daring do.
“At halftime we had to reign her back because we realized that the way she was tackling, it all might end early for her,” said Giesbrecht. “It was her first game and we wanted her to last the full season.”
Buttar took the hint.
“The biggest thing I have learned is being smart,” she said. “I don’t want to make a bad tackle and get hurt. But to me, this is how I have always played. It’s important to have that tough edge and to never back down. For me, not being scared has always been the difference.”
Early on, during those academy days at Abby Middle, Giesbrecht was audience to the contagious nature of Buttar’s hustle, and that most positive of team traits has followed her all the way to UFV.
“It’s inspiring for her teammates, it’s a motivator and a confidence-builder when they see her going that hard and they all then ask themselves ‘Why can’t I?’”
Of course, even before Buttar emerged among the elite of U Sports’ Class of 2019 rookies, the Cascades already had an established heart-and-soul leader in current senior Brittney Zacharuk, whom we profiled last season as the team’s definition of gritty character.
Over a special season in which Buttar has had the opportunity to glean the best of Zacharuk’s skill and team impact, Giesbrecht admits an excitement in having both on the field at the same time.
“You can’t tell they are four years apart because Britt is such a good leader,” the coach says. “She motivates everyone. It’s like they have just met in the middle. The (U Sports) soccer season is so short, really just about two months, so you really have to be dialled in and we’re seeing it. One of them has been our leader now for a few years, and the other one is a future leader.”
Fraser Valley heads into the weekend holding the Pacific Division’s sixth-and-final spot to Canada West playoffs, but of course with the season set to reach its halfway mark Friday against No. 8nationally-ranked UBC, they know there is still plenty of opportunity to help themselves write their version of the perfect season-ending script.
All the same, nothing will come easy against the same two teams the Cascades opened the campaign against on the road over the first weekend of this month.
“We lost late at Victoria (giving up a 72nd-minute strike in a 1-0 setback) and then at UBC, we led late but they came away with a tie (1-1 on a UBC goal in the 87th minute after Buttar had scored her first career conference goal),” said Giesbrecht. “We came away with one point knowing we should have gotten more. That’s why this is a huge weekend for us. We’re hungry. We want to show we’re for real. We want to show we’re a contender.”
Translate those words into work rate, and you’re describing what a certain Cascades’ rookie is all about.
Ask Bryana Buttar about the genesis of her will to compete, and she takes it right back to those sixth grade days at Abby Middle School.
“I can still remember the first day, the first session,” begins Buttar. “I just remember seeing a whole bunch of boys, and I had to play against them. I got used to it. It made me tough. I feel like that is where I got my edge.”
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