ABBOTSFORD — Inform Brittany Costa just how long it’s been since she last played a meaningful soccer game, and the silence on the other end of the phone line speaks volumes.
In her case, the waiting has indeed the hardest part.
“It just feels like I have been training for so long that I don’t even know what that whole environment feels like anymore,” Fraser Valley’s 22-year-old third-year transfer student said Tuesday about her own pre-COVID 1,055-day gap which will expire 5:30 p.m. Friday when the Cascades open the 2021 Canada West conference campaign at Rotary Stadium in the first match of a two-game weekend set against the Victoria Vikes.
UFV closes out the weekend Saturday hosting the Vikes at 1 p.m. The Cascades’ men’s team faces the Vikes in respective Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (3 p.m.) games.
“To be on a home field with a home crowd, finally getting a chance to play?” she asked out loud. “It’s going to hit me as we get closer, and when Friday comes, it will be an unreal moment.”
COVID wiped out every Canadian university sports season in 2020, but in the case of Costa, a North Delta native and Burnsview Secondary grad who had begun her university soccer career to much acclaim back in 2017 with Edmonton’s MacEwan Griffins, the complexities of a red-shirt season with UFV in 2019 following a move back home in pursuit of her academic calling, actually meant sitting out that entire year as well… as a redshirt transfer.
So while 1,055 days is indeed a huge span of time within the eligibility clock of a university student-athlete, it’s true duration is only magnified when you consider that it’s just 40 days shy of three years.
“But Brit’s been a leader within this program,” said UFV head coach Niko Marcina as his team comes off an impressive 3-1-0 exhibition campaign in which every win has included a clean sheet. “Despite all the adversities she’s faced, she’s been influential on and off the field, and now, injected into our line-up, she’s also a massive presence within our training sessions and pre-season environment.”
One thing that Costa has learned over these past three years is that the cost of embracing the true ideals of the student-athlete come at a conversion rate whose final value can’t be determined without patience and belief. It’s only now, in fact, that she understands her big picture for what it truly represents.
Back in the fall of 2017, Costa enrolled at MacEwan within a sciences-based curriculum she knew were the prerequisites she’d need to major in a kinesiology program she had been told would soon be launched at the university.
“But after my second year there, I had to ask myself ‘Do I keep waiting?’” said Costa of a faculty which had still not gotten off the ground.
What compounded the complex nature of her decision to look elsewhere for an academic fit was the fact that she was absolutely thriving on the soccer side of things with the Griffins.
Despite standing only 5-foot-2, Costa was a presence from the moment she stepped on the pitch, not only starting in the midfield from Day 1 of her Canada West career and logging huge minutes, but capping her 2017-18 freshman year, her first of two years at the school, by being honoured as its overall Female Rookie of the Year across all Griffins sports.
“It took me months to make the decision, and even when I did it was a split-decision,” Costa admits of electing to come back to B.C. and enrol at UFV where she could not only pick up her career as a third-year player following a 2019 redshirt transfer season, but continue to play the sport she loved with three more seasons of eligibility.
“That team (at MacEwan), they hold a huge part of me and the fact that I was able to enjoy success early on in my career,” added Costa. “If I had started at a different school, I might not have played as much and things could have been very different now.”
And talking about that split-decision of hers?
Since coming in 2019, despite the redshirt and COVID seasons, she’s become a true Cascade, and she credits not only her new coaches and teammates, but an inner compass which convinced her that she could still chase both her academic and athletic passions at the same place.
To put it succinctly, it’s easily tipped the scales in UFV’s favour.
“I am so glad I stuck it out,” she continued on Tuesday before training, looking back on her career and crediting the influence of Adam Day, one of her youth coaches at Surrey United, who got her to believe that she could be an impact player at the U SPORTS level. “But there were days when I wasn’t sure I’d be able to withstand it. I wasn’t getting to do what I love, but the school side of things, that’s what made me say ‘Nope, you made the right decision’ and ‘This is 100 per cent what you want to be doing.’ School has been amazing for me. It’s given me my peace of mind… it’s shown me why I made my transfer to UFV.”
The long wait, it seems, has also made her more open to change and more resilient to any additional challenges placed before her.
As training began in late summer, Marcina made a decision, for the good of the team, to move Costa from her career-long place in the middle of the park, to what he deemed a vital position at central defender in the Cascades’ new schematic.
“She offers a lot in possession, and she has that high soccer IQ which allows her to make the positive decisions we require form our back line,” began Marcina, who in succeeding former longtime head coach Rob Giesbrecht, makes his U SPORTS’ head coaching debut Friday. “We have adjusted our style of play and our formations, and based on that, we need players out of the back who are confident on the ball and capable of playing out of the back. She is one of the best in the conference at playing from that withdrawn role. Plus, with her IQ, she has the ability to adapt to any position.”
Which brings us to a very interesting part of Costa’s on-field persona and perhaps just why a take-no-prisoners mentality has long been ingrained in her game.
As referenced earlier, she’s only 5-foot-2, an inch shorter than her listed height.
“Even in my recruitment process I was told by teams in the U.S. ‘You’re too short’ and ‘The average player on our team is 5-8,’” she relays. “Size shouldn’t be a thing. Personally, I don’t think about it. I feel like I play bigger than 5-2. I am not scared to push someone around who is a foot taller than I am. I have always played bigger than I am.”
Adds Marcina: “She has the grit and intensity to go toe-to-toe with any player.”
It’s all part-and-parcel of why Costa, along with her teammate Alanna Sydenham, will wear UFV’s captain’s arms bands this season.
Now, all that’s left is for the waiting to end.
Yet based on that 1,055 day disconnect between her academic and athletic calendars, one which has her scheduled to graduate with her degree in kinesiology this April, even Brittany Costa admits that while she would love to play out her remaining two seasons of eligibility in both 2022 and ’23, nothing is a certainty.
So on Friday, it’s all about living in the here and now.
“It’s going to be an emotional moment for her, and I know she is excited and anxious just to get that first touch,” Marcina admits.
That’s when a decision she made almost three years ago to transfer back home finally matures and brings with it a dividend that only she can truly understand.
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