Mila van der Veen (centre) of the Trinity Western Spartans makes a run past UBC's Josie Claypool (left) and Katalin Tolnai on Monday as the U SPORTS women's soccer season resumed play with an exhibition match in Langley. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)
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Trinity Western-UBC women’s soccer: “It’s in the blood of the two schools…” True words as third decade of dynastic rivalry opens with 3-3 draw!

LANGLEY — You could say it was a pretty quiet day for the resumption of the greatest rivalry game in the history of U Sports’ women’s soccer.

An early-week 5 p.m. start on a day which began with some drizzle, on a campus still weeks from the opening of classes, accompanied by the calendar’s earliest-ever clash in 49 all-time meetings between the schools? All of that might have had something to do with it.

Yet as the finishing touches were put on Monday’s 3-3 draw between the defending national champion UBC Thunderbirds and the host and arch-rival Trinity Western Spartans, one thing remained very clear as local university sport returned with a meaningful flourish after 17 months of pandemic-induced hibernation.

“This rivalry goes so deep,” confirmed fifth-year blue-chip Spartans’ defender Liz Hicks of the derby-like feeling which inevitably develops each time the two side clash, regardless of the stakes or the calendar’s date. “It’s always a healthy fear between the two of us.”

So much so that, while the coaches may not openly admit to the level of significance of just such an exhibition match between the two decorated programs, the players themselves will not deny it.

“One-hundred per cent,” said UBC’s fourth-year midfielder Tess McRae, sharing Hicks’ sentiments regarding the tension and feeling so evident on Monday.

“I was definitely feeling like it was a championship game, even though it was just an exhibition,” the former Kitsilano Secondary grad explained. “I just feel like our two teams are so competitive, and I mean that is why you saw so many yellow cards on the field. Everyone was just competing to the fullest extent. I think it’s in the blood of the two schools.”

And within that blood are an historical set of numbers that just don’t lie.

UBC and Trinity Western have combined to win 10 (5-5) of the last 18 nationals titles contested for since 2002. Of the other eight titles, Queen’s and Laval are a distant third with two national crowns each.

But it goes beyond that: A Trinity Western or UBC team has made the national final in six of the last eight seasons of competition.

And for the record, this exhibition match unofficially opened the season.

Yet perhaps more significantly, it marked the start of the third decade of competition between the two schools, dating back to expansionist TWU’s 3-1 win back on Sept. 13, 2001.

Maddie Melnychuk (left) of Trinity Western and Danielle Steer of UBC exemplified the physical play on display Monday as Canada’s top two U SPORTS’ women’s soccer programs kicked off their respective 2021 seasons. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)

On Monday, at its own grounds at Chase Office Field, it was the Spartans who found their form first, getting a pair of early goals from fourth-year forwards Kathryn Harvey and Anna Dunn, the latter an Alberta Panda transfer.

The ‘Birds, however, showed their grit and chemistry as its top unit rallied with three straight goals.

Before the half, tireless third-year midfielder Sophie Damian made it 2-1. In the second half, a quick strike from fourth-year midfielder Tess McRae locked it, before fourth-year forward Danielle Steer was able to give her team the lead.

TWU was able to equalize late behind a goal from second-year forward Makenna Dietrich, adjusting the all-time series record between the two sides 22-16-11 in UBC’s favour.

“UBC provided a huge test,” said TWU head coach Graham Roxburgh, who has guided the Spartans the entire breadth of the rivalry since the Spartans’ turn-of-the-century transition to U SPORTS.

“I said to a few of my girls that I was really encouraged by their reaction from being up 2-0 to then when a (UBC) goal changes momentum,” Roxburgh commented. “Especially when we had a lot of the deeper part of the roster on the field, they showed a lot of resilience and were unlucky not to score maybe one or two. Maybe we win? But in the end, probably a fair result.”

UBC’s Tess McRae (right) works through the tackling efforts of Trinity Western’s Sara Bazille during exhibition friendly Monday in Langley. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2021. All Rights Reserved)

Afterwards, it was clear in the intonation of words of the two head coaches that their shared level of respect for each other’s programs continues to set the bar of excellence this rivalry has earned.

With that much clear, TWU’s Roxburgh and UBC’s Jesse Symons had fun embracing the fact that there was so much physicality for what was best termed an August friendly.

“Two good programs who also have a lot of dynamic, athletic players,” began Symons, “and they don’t want to give an inch. It will be fun as the season wears on.”

And although no official stats were kept, Symons wondered aloud about one thing in particular.

“So that might have set a record for preseason yellow cards, potentially,” he laughed. “But you can look up that stat.”

Added Roxburgh with a smile: “I wouldn’t want to be the referee at the next game.”

For the record, that comes at the tail-end of the Canada West conference season.

UBC plays host to Trinity Western in a two-game set Oct. 15-16 on the newly-installed turf at Thunderbird Stadium.

After that, with the first post-season since 2019 beckoning, there is surely more history ready to be written.

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