Vancouver, BC- Like a bolt of lightning to their already national championship-winning squad, the UBC Thunderbirds women’s soccer program announced a highly-touted recruiting class ahead of their 2020 campaign.
With the new recruits, they are bringing in talent from a variety of locations, including Canada and the USA, and even different provinces within Canada. The 2019 U SPORTS Women’s Soccer champions have certainly grown with their latest recruitment class, and with most of last year’s squad remaining, they could very well challenge for the national title once again.
The group is made up of a lineup that could fill a decent five aside team at every position, and even have quality subs. There are three midfielders, two forwards, two defenders and even a goalkeeper, all of whom are coming to a team with few graduates.
Starting from the back, the incoming goalkeeper is one of the Americans. Hailing from San Carlos, California. At 5’10”, Lita Billman is not the tallest netminder, she’s not short either. In her latest season with the Peninsula Soccer Club, she earned the goalkeeper of the year award for her efforts between the sticks. The American is expected to push third-year goalkeeper Sarah Johns for the starting job come the fall. Johns played three games in 2019 en route to UBC’s national championship victory.
Moving up the pitch, we take a look at the defenders who will dawn UBC’s blue and gold come August. These recruits include Mary Nicholls and Ella Nuttall-Smith.
Nichols is joining the thunderbirds from within British Columbia. The Ladysmith, BC native is a centre back who has played at some of the top levels in both the youth and adult games on Vancouver Island.
She is bringing leadership qualities to the backline, a skill which she honed while she captained the Vancouver Island Wave throughout her youth career. Last season, she played against women with the Nanaimo Women’s Premier Team. When one combines the leadership she learned in youth with the fact that she has already played against women, Nichols looks to be an invaluable addition to the Thunderbirds backline. ‘
Joining Nichols in defence is American Ella Nuttall-Smith, who comes to UBC’s Point Grey campus after developing through the Los Angeles Galaxy’s women’s program. The California born defender actually committed to the Thunderbirds last year but is not joining the team until 2020.
Something that stands out about her is her skills on set-pieces. The Thunderbirds were strong on set pieces in 2019, but the addition of the Californian only improves their scoring chances from dead balls. In speaking to UBC communications, head coach Jesse Symons said “Mary has a tremendous ball striking and distribution abilities,” before continuing on to say. “She has qualities that will allow our team to play out of the back tactfully and efficiently.”
With the core of the defence set for the next few years, we can move up the pitch to take a look at the midfielders, and of course the most exciting players of them all, the forwards. Of the three midfielders, none are from outside of Canada, as the Thunderbirds continue to be an example of how to develop Canadian footballing talent through student-athletes. The three incoming midfielders are Sophia Kramer, Annie Plecas and Josie Claypool, with Claypool being the only one from outside of BC.
Kramer is joining the Thunderbirds from her hometown club of Surrey United and is also bringing leadership qualities to the Blue and Gold. She captained Surrey to the bronze medal at nationals and is one of three players in the recruiting class to have worn the armband at some point in their pre-collegiate career. As a central midfielder, she will be called upon to control the game for the Thunderbirds, a skill which she has shown she is capable of throughout her time with Surrey.
The other BC native alongside Kramer is that of Annie Plecas who also comes from a club in the Lower Mainland. She has spent the last number of seasons with Vancouver premier soccer development academy, Fusion FC, where she has developed into a potent tackler between the two penalty areas. The box to box midfielder is likely to slot into the 18 upon her arrival to UBC.
The Thunderbirds round out the midfield with talent from outside the province, as Josie Claypool joins the Vancouver school from the Calgary Foothills. Claypool plays a similar position to Plecas, although the versatile midfielder is also known for contributing to the offensive areas of the pitch. However, alongside her hard work between the chalk lines, she is also taking on a rigorous academic pursuit, where she will study for a Kinesiology and Masters of Management dual degree while at UBC.
So we’ve taken a look at the goalie, the defenders and the midfielders. All those people are significant to the team in some form or another, but a team can’t win without scoring goals and that’s where the importance of strikers comes into consideration. Enter Vancouver’s Polly Radnidge and Ottawa’s Jade Taylor-Ryan, two strikers joining the forward ranks of the Thunderbirds.
Radnidge is also coming to UBC after spending the last few seasons of her youth soccer career with Fusion FC. In her last season, she claimed the club’s scoring title before captaining the Provincial Development Program Squad. As you may have guessed, Radnidge is one of three captains heading to the Thunderbirds in this class.
Ottawa’s Jade Taylor-Ryan is set to join Radnidge at the front of the T-Birds attack, as the Ontario native heads west for her university soccer career. While in Ottawa she played with Ottawa South United and was also named the MVP of her high school squad.
In his words with UBC communications, head coach Symons spoke about Radnidge, saying, “Her power and ability to hold up the ball is outstanding. She’ll prove to be both a playmaker and goalscorer at the Canada West level.”
Both of the forwards will have to show exceptionally well in training if they are to find much playing time as a freshman. None of the Thundberids forwards graduated this year, and after winning the U SPORTS gold medal, it’s hard to imagine the strikers who led them there off of the pitch.
The squad’s additions ahead of this year will certainly make the team better, and as we mentioned already, it’s like a bolt of lightning to the roster. Fortunately, gold is also a conductor and takes the electricity in lightning very well, pointing towards more gold in the Thunderbird’s future.