Coming off 2020’s cancelled season and into a new one in which the norm has been to expect the unexpected, its perhaps no surprise to learn that despite a cross-country flight filled with folly, that the Canada West women’s soccer champions from Trinity Western University have arrived in Nova Scotia, stirringly unshaken, to battle for a national championship.
“I mean, that has been the story of the season, so why not have some adversity on the way out here,” remarked Spartans head coach Graham Roxburgh Wednesday afternoon from the campus of Cape Breton University in Sydney, NS, where Langley’s five-time national champs begin the quest for its first title since 2013 Thursday against the host school at the U SPORTS national tournament.
The Spartans left Vancouver on Sunday evening but didn’t arrive at the tournament hotel in Sydney until the wee hours of Tuesday morning, a journey which included an extended stay on the tarmac in Toronto, a re-route from Halifax to Charlottetown, and then an unexpected near-six-hour bus ride from the Prince Edward Island capital to their destination on the east coast of Cape Breton Island.
“We’ve faced many things this season, from key injuries, to COVID issues… so it’s just been full of adventures, let’s put it that way,” said Roxburgh, the veteran skip who, 21 years ago, led the program to a 3-2 PK win over host McGill back in 2004 title game to give the Langley school its first-ever U SPORTS national title in any sport.
“So through the whole trip, they were just really positive, really resilient.”
Roxburgh’s last sentiment seems especially apropos on the eve of the Spartans’ national tournament opener on Thursday (1:30 p.m. PT) against the host Capers.
Trinity Western went an undefeated 11-0-1 during conference regular season, and followed that with a 3-0 run through the Canada West championships, culminating with a tight 1-0 win over its arch-rivals, the UBC Thunderbirds, who are also in Sydney and positioned on the other side of the draw.
The ‘Birds open play Thursday (9 a.m. PT) against Acadia.
Over its final eight overall games heading into nationals, Trinity Western went 7-0-1, scoring eight goals and recording eight clean sheets.
It’s a sample size substantial enough to show both the level of resilience and the tenacity required by each of the tourney’s eight teams, all of whom will vie to be the last one standing following Sunday’s 10 a.m. PT championship final.
And amongst a traditionally deep-and-talented roster, veterans like defender Liz Hicks and forwards Kathryn Harvey and Anna Dunn have been program pillars through the re-start.
Hicks, the fifth-year senior from Surrey United, led the team in minutes-played this season, and her influence, especially down the stretch drive of a season in which the margins were so often times tight, was unmistakable.
“Liz is the big rock back there who leads with her experience and with her leadership and I don’t think there is a better player in Canada,” Roxburgh said of the 5-foot-8 graduate of Surrey’s Clayton Heights Secondary.
“Not only defensively, but offensively, too, she is a big threat,” continued Roxburgh. “She is key on set pieces, she attracts a lot of double teams that free up other people. She has just been a constant threat.”
And a steadying presence for first-years like Tilly James, Jessica Vance and Olivia Kranjec.
Of course keeper Hannah Miller has been excellent throughout.
“When you go out on the road, sometimes you are going to have to make two or three really good saves, and she has been a constant,” said Roxburgh.
And in the attack, the veteran presence that comes with two players like Harvey and Dunn, the latter a transfer from the University of Alberta, has been huge.
“In the (Canada West) final against UBC, we knew if we could get behind them one or two times, that Harvey could be a regular threat and fortunately that paid off with two or three minutes left,” the coach said. “She is always a threat with her pace and her experience, and she’s a good finisher.
“And Anna has been nothing short of inspirational,” continued Roxburgh of Dunn, who led the team in the regular season with nine goals and 26 points.
“It’s not just her ability to score goals for us, I think that is something new for her… she’s added a little bit of extra offence. But it’s her passion. It’s her work rate. It’s her drive. She’s a mature athlete. So those two provide constant threats, but I think Anna’s will to win has been that extra thing which has been so helpful for our offence this year.”
Roxburgh, who has led TWU to nine Canada West championship titles over his career, says he’s seen some good signs in training since the team arrived in Sydney.
“There is a confidence, without it being a swagger or an arrogant confidence,” he begins. “An inside feeling that if we stick together, and fight, and work hard, and trust the process that good things could happen. But I think their togetherness is what has impressed me the most.”
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