VANCOUVER — There was a moment, back in the spring of 2016, when Danielle Steer might have wondered about the direction of the UBC Thunderbirds’ women’s soccer program.
A shining Grade 11 youth soccer talent with both Coastal F.C. and her school team at Elgin Park Secondary in Surrey, Steer was in the midst of taking her on-campus recruiting visit when something very strange occurred to her.
“It was pretty funny because, of course, I had no idea where I was going, but he also had no idea where he was going,” Steer recounted Tuesday in comical remembrance of the tour she was getting from UBC’s then-freshly-minted head coach Jesse Symons.
And considering the impact Steer, the 5-foot-9 fourth-year forward, has gone on to have with the team, it’s a good thing she was able to smile and take the whole exercise in stride, having already been familiar with Symons from his prior posting as head coach of the Whitecaps’ girls elite program.
“She was the very first recruit I ever brought into UBC,” Symons said earlier this week. “When I got the job, I couldn’t believe she was still available that late in her Grade 11 year. She was my first phone call, and fortunately she made the choice to stay, and not go back east or to the U.S. She had options to do both. And, yes, it was the worst tour I have ever done. We got lost in three buildings. I didn’t know where I was going.”
It feels especially apropos to re-visit that comic moment now, because just over five years later, as No. 4-ranked UBC prepares to open the home portion of its 2021 Canada West season with a two-game Thunderbird Stadium weekend set beginning Friday (5:30 p.m.) against Prince George’s UNBC Timberwolves, its direction and its place at the top rung of U SPORTS women’s soccer seems unquestioned.
The pandemic and the resulting cancelled 2020 season might make it easy to forget for some, yet as UBC gets back to business, it does so as the defending 2019 U SPORTS national champions, a title earned following a 1-0 win over the Calgary Dinos in the title game, fittingly off an 80th-minute header by none other than Steer who was later named the national tournament MVP.
Fast forward to UBC’s current 4-0-1 record, including a two-game conference-opening sweep Sept. 10-11 at Thompson Rivers, and we find Steer picking up right where she left off, scoring six times in those five matches, the latest being her opening-half winner in a 1-0 win last week at Simon Fraser.
Steer has committed herself to one more season beyond this one as she finishes up her arts degree in Environment and Sustainability.
And through the dedication Steer has given her sport, it’s no stretch to say that her best is yet to come.
“I think the pandemic stirred another level of her love for the game,” said Symons. “She spent so much time training in how to finish. She’s fitter and stronger, and she’s really just more comfortable with herself. She is a humble person and all the other players have so much respect for her. I think all of that is showcasing itself in every game.”
In the preseason opener in Langley against Trinity Western, she scored her team’s third goal in what would finish as a 3-3 draw.
She didn’t score in a 1-0 win over UBC Okanagan, yet she bagged a pair of goals in each of the ‘Birds wins in Kamloops over TRU, leading up to her game-winner Sept. 16 at SFU.
⚽️ WSOC | With 4 goals already through @ubcwsoc's first 2 @CanadaWest games, Danielle Steer looks forward to getting back into action at Thunderbird Stadium in front of fans for the first time in nearly two years Friday night! pic.twitter.com/JDkQlPgnXC— UBC Thunderbirds (@ubctbirds) September 23, 2021
“I think throughout the pandemic, I felt more of a maturity within my game,” explained Steer, a former multi-sport athlete who also excelled as a middle-distance runner on the track throughout her high school days at Surrey’s Elgin Park Secondary.
“When we weren’t able to play, I didn’t take that as a hit to my emotional or physical being. I recognized it as an opportunity to get better, to do the work behind-the-scenes that no one else was doing.”
Now, it’s all coming together for both Steer and her teammates.
Since dropping back-to-back games to Pac 12 toughies Oregon and Oregon State back in August of 2019, UBC has posted a 20-3-5 overall record.
Now, highlighted by that 2019 national title, and low-lighted by a lost 2020 campaign, the ‘Birds will make their official home debut Friday with an aura which can only be described as collectively positive.
“The talent within our team is so extremely deep within our core,” says Steer of a group which includes the likes of keeper Emily Moore, midfielders Sophie Damian and Tess McRae, and fellow forwards Emma Hooton and Vanessa Tome.
There’s also a gaggle of blue-chip recruits like pure freshman defender Sophia Ferreira, the Coquitlam Metro Ford and Centennial Secondary standout who played all 90 minutes against SFU. There is, in fact, enough talent from top to bottom that many have whispered throughout the preseason that Symons could split the squad and field two very competitive Canada West teams.
“I feel an energy,” Steer adds. “This season is an opportunity we’ve all been waiting for and so we are soaking up this atmosphere. We’re are just buzzing all the time.”
And no one is stopping to ask for directions.
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