LANGLEY — Jenaya Robertson reaches back in her mind to a time 10 years ago, and with an inflection so very apropos, the 22-year-old lets loose with a 12-year-old’s joyful enthusiasm.
“We all played together on the same team for one season, and I am pretty sure we were all centre-midfielders, too,” remembers Robertson of the 2009-10 edition of the Sur-Del Storm, where she and fellow seventh-graders Brooklyn Tidder and Rachel Hutchinson counted themselves as teammates before they even contemplated a future as budding next-level talents.
This weekend, a full decade later, that trio will don their Trinity Western kit for the final time in Canada West regular season conference play, taking to the pitch as the senior heart-and-soul leaders of a 10-1-1 Spartans team sitting at No. 2 in the U Sports national rankings.
In a pair of 5 p.m. starts at cozy, on-campus Chase Office Field, Trinity Western will play host to Kelowna’s UBC Okanagan Heat on Friday, and then on it’s Saturday Seniors Night, in which teammates Nicole Bolder and Carley Wilmott complete a quintet of soccer graduates, the Spartans will face Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers WolfPack.
On the heels of this past week’s sweep of a home-and home set with the Fraser Valley Cascades, head coach Graham Roxburgh’s team will enter the post-season sweepstakes with a home playoff berth already clinched.
And it has been in that special second season, one in which the Spartans have fashioned two U Sports’ national championship final game appearances over the trio’s first four seasons together, that their most rare and effective qualities have been on display.
“It has been important to have them at their most mature and most experienced this season,” Roxburgh said “When you get to the playoffs, every time you play, your season could be over 90 minutes later. But they have demonstrated poise and the will to win and it’s something they’ve had to learn. They take such pride in it, in the care of their program and making the others better, that the only word you can use for it is ‘legacy.’”
Scan the leaderboards of women’s university soccer this season and the statistical impact of the Spartans is unmistakable.
Robertson, a North Delta native and the lone member of the trio to retain her old childhood spot at centre-mid, not only leads the Canada West in goals (10) and points (14), she is also tied for second nationally in goals.
Hutchinson, a superb playmaking forward, is tied for second in the Canada West for points (13) while her seven assists have her tied for first-place in the national race.
Originally a centre-mid like the like her other two Sur-Del Storm teammates, the Surrey-Elgin Park grad came to Trinity Western as a highly-regarded striker, yet has undergone an incredible transformation to that of an even more highly-regarded defender, and a reason the Spartans have been one of the most stingy teams over the course of her tenure on the Langley campus.
“She took a while emotionally to buy into the idea, but she has taken all of her best physical and emotional attributes and been able to channel them towards becoming a composed centre-back,” says Roxburgh.
“She is athletic, strong and quick, and over the last three seasons, she has really grown into the position. Right now, she’s pretty tough to beat because as her soccer awareness has continued to grow, she’s become one of the better defenders in the country. But also, because of her youth career as a forward, she is really good with her head, and she can score.”
Adds Robertson of Tidder: “She has never looked back, and now she is like a beast back there, so physically dominant. She can boss anyone off the ball.”
While Robertson and Tidder finished their youth careers at the top tiers of competition, Hutchinson, a Surrey-Clayton Heights grad, had chosen her own soccer path at a level not scouted to the same level of scrutiny.
“She was on a metro-level team and she loved that culture, but fortunately for us, she was also in my Monday night academy and I saw this quick, skilled, dangerous finisher and I just felt like she could excel at the next level,” remembers Roxburgh.
So impressive was Hutchinson that she not only started 12 of TWU’s 14 conference matches in her pure freshman 2015 campaign, she finished tied for second on the team in points (5-6-11) in advance of not only being named Canada West Rookie of the Year, but U Sports’ Top Rookie as well.
And as exciting a finisher as Hutchinson is (she was selected U Sports’ National Player of the Week this week for a five-point outing), her biggest plus is her combination of scoring and playmaking.
“She has learned how to be a great two-way player, and she’s also learned to how important it is to serve your teammates through your efforts,” says Roxburgh. “Her assists are fantastic. She crosses a ball better than anyone.”
Adds Robertson: “She flew totally under the radar in youth soccer, but Rachel took her own path and it’s so cool to see that no matter where you play, you can still be looked at and get to a great place. Graham sure didn’t overlook her.”
Which brings us to Robertson herself.
Rare is the situation where on a Trinity Western team amongst the perennial frontrunners to win a national title each season, that anyone gets the opportunity to be a three-year captain.
Yet as a way of most succinctly summarizing the impact of the former Delview Secondary grad, it’s where all talk of her, in terms of her place among all-time Spartans, both starts and ends.
“I think the thing I have learned most,” says Robertson, “is that I needed to lead in the way that I was most comfortable, in the ways which spoke best to who I am. I realized that I couldn’t lead in the ways that others wanted me to. It was a big thing to speak true to who I was.”
Can there be a better, more refined definition of such a broad-based concept as team leadership?
Roxburgh has seen all of that unfold in concert with Robertson’s more tangible, on-field contributions.
“People always ask what made MJ (Michael Jordan) so amazing… was it a highlight reel dunk or a three-pointer at the buzzer?” the coach asks. “I think it was the kinds of things like a desperation block. It’s filling in all of the gaps, like when Jenaya makes a sliding tackle or when she inspires her teammates with her work ethic.”
And as their respective university soccer careers come to a close over the next month, the trio’s combined efforts become even more profound when traced back to their early days as a rag-tag pack of 12-year-old centre-mids with the Sur-Del Storm.
Robertson has since stood pat in the middle of the field, while Tidder has stepped to the back in defence, and Hutchinson to the front in attack.
“When you get to your fifth year, you can see it all through a senior’s lens,” says Robertson of what is suddenly a clear-and-focussed wide-angle view of life.
Symbolically, for a program looking to win its first national title since the trio arrived, as well as record-tying sixth overall, the view through that lens shows just how expansive a touch Rachel Hutchinson, Jenaya Robertson and Brooklyn Tidder have brought to Trinity Western women’s soccer.
It’s an influence which has touched every part of the park.
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