TORONTO, ON – For the first time since 2019, U SPORTS soccer will be played in the Canada West conference, and it all starts on the first weekend of September with two matchups in the new-look Central division.
The 2021 edition of Canada West women’s soccer looks slightly different than the status quo, with only 86% of the regular length schedule, and the teams split into three new divisions.
The central division includes the Alberta Pandas, Calgary Dinos, Mount Royal Cougars, MacEwan Griffins and Lethbridge Pronghorns, with the first four kicking off on Saturday, Sept. 4.
UBC, Thompson Rivers, Trinity Western Victoria, UBC-Okanagan, Fraser Valley, and Northern BC make up the BC division. At the same time, USask, Regina, Manitoba and Winnipeg get ready to battle for Prarie division supremacy.
With the central division the first to get underway, 49 Sports looks at each team heading into 2021, key players, and some predictions. The top two from Alberta automatically qualify for the playoffs, while a third could join as a wildcard.
The Alberta Pandas will be a very young team in 2021, almost unrecognizable to the team that last stepped off the pitch in 2019. The green and gold have only one fifth-year payer and four fourth-years listed on their roster, and none of their top-four offensive contributors from 2019 are still with them.
Brooke Lang scored two goals in 2019 and is the highest-scoring returning player; however, the success is unlikely to come from the forward group. Instead, Alberta’s prowess will come down to how they play at the back, with one of the best goalkeepers in Canada West, Ashley Turner, returning for another season.
Turner had six wins and 3.5 clean sheets in 2019, as Alberta sat right in the middle of the conference with 16 goals conceded. Key additions to the side include midfielders Wanda Czedbreszuk, who joins from Woodbridge, Ontario, and Vanessa Minckler, who last played collegiately with the NAIT Ooks.
While the players are one factor, all eyes will be on Head Coach Kristyn Shapka, who makes her head coaching debut with the Pandas after taking over at the end of November 2019.
Player to watch: Vanessa Minckler
The defending conference champions have one thing on their to-do list for 2021: Win the U SPORTS National tournament. While another conference championship would certainly be satisfying for the Dinos, coming within a goal of winning the 2019 U SPORTS championship still stings two years later.
With the year off, the Dinos have a very different looking roster than they left the national final with. On the 2021 roster, 16 women are making their U SPORTS debuts this season but compliment a veteran core of six fifth years and four fourth-year student-athletes.
In 2019, the Dinos’ prowess came from the back, where they only conceded seven times in the regular season, good for best in Canada West. It is a theme they will want to continue and their goalscoring, which was conference top-three.
Montana Leonard and Kelsi MacDonald, two critical offensive leaders for the Dinos, will return as fifth years on Troye Flannery’s side and look to regain their 2019 form. Leonard finished the season with nine goals, while MacDonald chipped in six herself.
Few teams in Canada West reflect their 2019 quality as much as Calgary, but the Dinos are set up for success in 2021. However, if they fall short, the veteran core will pass down a winning culture to the sizeable first-year class.
Player to watch: Kelsi MacDonald
If the Lethbridge pronghorns have their sights set on a second straight playoff qualifying campaign, they will need to score more. After finishing on the edge of the conference once known as the Prarie, they will have to improve drastically in a condensed schedule to take a real kick at upsetting some of the contenders.
Like Alberta, the Pronghorns will have a new face on the sidelines in 2021, as Macky Singh has taken over as the Head Coach. A former coach of the New Zealand National University Team at the FISU Universiades will look to follow in the footsteps of another former New Zealand coach, John Herdman, who has risen the ranks in Canada to coach the senior national teams.
Richmond, BC’s Collette Mokafam returns to the roster in 2021 as a fourth year, after scoring a joint team-high three goals in 2019, alongside Jesse Dueck, who won’t be returning.
Singh’s Pronghorns play a high-pressing, attacking style that is much more aggressive than fans got used to in 2019, and three of the four main forwards on the roster tallied goals in a 4-3 exhibition loss to Trinity Western.
For any new-look side, it is hard to guess how they will play, but with eight goals in three non-conference matches against U SPORTS opponents, it looks as though the goalscoring issue is on its way to recovery.
The MacEwan Griffins did everything right in the regular season in 2019 but failed to match the playoff prowess of UBC and Calgary when it came to crunch time. In 2021, the Griffins will want to win the regular-season table once again but take the much desired next step in post-season play.
Salma Kamel, who led the school in goalscoring with seven in 2019, is back in the team, as are several players from the dominant 2019 squad. They have gone a perfect 5-0-0 through the preseason, outsourcing their opponents 20-3 through those games.
“This is the deepest we’ve ever been,” said Head coach Dean Cordeiro to MacEwan Athletics. “We got dealt a hand that nobody’s ever seen before with this COVID year and players getting a year of eligibility back, so in essence, we have two recruiting classes in one. But both of them are super strong, and it’s exciting.”
The Griffins have 18 returning players and 13 rookies. Although the number of players at the moment is far too many for a matchday squad of 18, let alone a starting 11, it gives them tremendous depth to draw on throughout the season, something they wil need playing in a tough Central division.
Player to watch: Samantha Gouveia
Mount Royal Cougars
The Mount Royal Cougars won more matches than Lethbridge in 2019 yet missed out on the playoffs on the final points tally. With two years to let their close playoff call stew in their minds. Unlike some powerhouse teams in the division, the MRU Cougars are exceptionally young, with the two freshman classes making up the bulk of their roster.
Head Coach Tino Fusco knows that this year will be about rebuilding and preparing his student-athletes for their university careers and future success. University sport is a cycle, and after two years off, the Cougars find themselves at the beginning.
“The biggest challenge will be that two classes have never worn a Mount Royal jersey before, so there will definitely be some nerves in that first game,” said Fusco to Canada West. “We’re going to be one of the first ones to put the show on display. We just want to go out and play to the best of our ability. That’s all I can really ask of the players.”
While the team is young, leading goalscorer Janai Martens will add a significant amount of experience as a fifth-year player and will likely be relied upon to play heavy minutes in the midfield. She is one of only two fight-year players, alongside goalkeeper Katrina Greenley.
Player to watch: Beth Middlemass
Alberta at MacEwan – Saturday, Sept. 4
Calgary at Mount Royal – Saturday, Sept. 4
- Calgary Dinos
- MacEwan Griffins
- Alberta Pandas
- MRU Cougars
- Lethbridge Pronghorns