VANCOUVER, BC – The Canada West Pacific Division is always one of the most intriguing parts of U SPORTS to follow. After a year off, with many of the schools split into smaller sub-divisions, the Pacific returns fully, set to have another fantastic year.
2022, however, won’t be like years past. This past summer, many of the schools had affiliate teams compete in the first season of League 1 BC, setting up their athletes to compete at an elite level right from the first matchday of the U SPORTS season.
Of the many exciting storylines to follow throughout the season, keeping tabs on the teams that played League 1 compared to those that did not will be an intriguing factor.
Alas, let’s look at the teams vying for the playoffs in the Pacific Division of Canada West.
The Calgary Dinos are without their biggest proponent of the last several seasons. Still, even without Canada West All-Time leading goalscorer Montana Leonard, the team is prepped to be one of the top sides in the Pacific Division.
The 2019 Canada West Champions are in a transition year but have a strong returning core. At the top, head coach Troy Flannery has stepped away from the team, and the side will be co-managed by Diogo Raposo and Alex Valerio in 2022. Still, the group can contend and potentially surprise.
Despite the slew of graduations last year, the Dinos welcome back a lot of talent, including Jayden Berg, who established herself as one of the team’s prime assisting players, posting four helpers as a rookie last season. While the veteran attacking talents are no longer there to finish the chances, her creative abilities will continue to help the Dinos in 2022.
Berg, in addition to defender Brooklyn Colvin, midfielders Ella Djuranic and Shyanne Hedges, and forwards Isabella DiPalma and Grace Moor, played this summer under Flannery with the Calgary Foothills, which advanced to the finals of United Women’s Soccer.
With the cohesion from the summer season, in addition to returning talents and fresh coaching ideas, Calgary will be a formidable opponent in 2022, despite not having one of the most clutch goalscorers in Canada West to date.
Key Player: Jayden Berg
Thompson Rivers Wolfpack
The TRU Wolfpack are one of the teams that will have benefitted from League 1 BC, having many of their players play together with Rivers FC in the league’s inaugural campaign. However, there will be gaslight adjustment under university head coach Mark Pennington, who did not coach the League 1 team; rather that was Hee Young Chung.
With the cohesion from the summer, however, the Wolfpack will likely improve on their 1-8-1 record from 2021 and could have the playoffs within their sights. That said, the goals will have to come from somewhere, a fact that has plagued the Wolfpack for serval years.
One of the attacking players to keep an eye on is Emily Clarke, who comes off playing significant minutes with Rivers, and did well to settle into the pace of play in 2021. While she has yet to score a U SPORTS goal, there is potential in her play.
Having Rivers FC will undoubtedly help TRU at the start of the 2022 Canada West season. Still, their overall quality at the end will likely be overshadowed by powerhouses such as Calgary, UBC and Trinity Western.
Key Player: Emily Clarke
Trinity Western Spartans
The defending Canada West Champions have a U SPORTS gold medal in mind this season.
After falling to the MacEwan Griffins in the national final a year ago, head coach Graham Roxburghand his team have a championship-or-bust mindset this season — and after a successful end to the year for TWU’s League 1 BC team, Unity FC, the expectations should be nothing less.
The Spartans are a veteran-heavy roster this season, led by goalkeeper Hannah Miller and forward Anna Dunn. However, while Dunn scored 17 goals in 23 games last season, the fifth-year forward dealt with injuries in the spring. Still, there is hope that she can regain the form she’s shown over the years.
As a team, TWU scored a conference-high 71 goals last season, nearly three every game they played. Meanwhile, at the defensive end of the pitch, they only conceded eight times, one of the nation’s best defensive records.
An intriguing player on their side is Tilly James, a former New Zealand Futsal Youth International, who thrived as a centreback with the Spartans before playing a striker role with Unity in the summer. Her deployment will be intriguing, to say the least.
On the rookie side of the equation, keep an eye on Sophie Crowther, who had proven to be a dynamic midfielder in her years with Surrey United.
For Trinity Western, this is the year that they should win the national championship, as they look to get the best out of a highly-skilled veteran core.
Key Player: Tilly James
The UBC Thunderbirds are consistently one of the top teams in the country, and there is little reason to doubt that they will continue that in 2022. With forward Daniele Steer closing in on Canada West and UBC records, in addition to an electrifying midfield and outstanding group of recruits, the 2022 Thunderbirds have their sights set on a Canada West and National Championship.
After finishing fourth at U SPORTS Nationals in 2021, the Thunderbirds are very prepared for the start of the 2022 season. This summer, most of the players played with Varsity FC in League 1 BC, and consistently outclassed the competition until the final game, when they fell to the Whitecaps FC U19s.
Still, the university competition, many from CanWest, looked inferior to the quality Varsity showcased throughout the summer. So for head coach Jesse Symons, the impetuous will be on carrying the summer chemistry into the fall and well into November.
Look for the veterans such as Steer, Katalin Tolnai, Sophie Damian and Vanessa Tome to lead the way in attack, while defenders Sophia Fereria and Jacqueline Tyrer further thrive in Canada West.
Additionally, the Thunderbirds have a stellar recruiting class, headlined by Jayda Thompson and many second-years who they’ll hope to step up this season.
While the Thunderbirds often have little issue in the regular season, the big goal for this year will be to get over the hump in the Canada west championship and to add another U SPORTS title before many veterans leave next year.
UBC kicked off their preseason with a trip south of the border to face Washington and Seattle U, falling to the UW Huskies and beating Seattle 2-1. The second portion of their preseason features a trip to Portland while the Varsity FC members head east to the inaugural League 1 Canada Championship.
Key Player: Katalin Tolnai
The UBCO Heat will be an intriguing team this year, with many picking them as the most improved side in 2022. After finishing a mediocre 2-7-3 in 2021, the Heat enter this season with a strong group of recruits and second years ready to take on more prominent roles.
Last season, Manitoba Bisons transfer Stefanie Young led the team with five goals from an attacking midfield role, and she will look to continue that pace in her third year of Canada West action. However, there will need to be greater contributions from the rest of head coach Craig Smith’s side, which only combined for six goals outside of Young.
While the Heat were mediocre across the pitch in 2021, they struggled to pressure teams throughout games, only earning 37 corner kicks through the season, the third least in their division.
Key Player: Stefanie Young
Fraser Valley Cascades
The UFV Cascades had a fantastic year among tough competition in 2021 and look as though they’ll be able to carry that into the fall of 2022. Posting a 6-4-2 record in a division with UBC and TWU isn’t easy, but the Cascades managed to be the best of the rest en route to falling to MacEwan in the Canada West quarterfinal.
This fall, head coach Niko Macina will turn to Harneet Dadrao to continue her strong play in midfield after scoring two goals and adding four assists last season. Dadarao, alongside Jessica Fennell, come into the season after a strong season with TSS Rovers in League 1 BC and will likely lead the team in the early stages.
A strength of UFV last season was their ability to keep games close with the top teams and keep the ball out of their net. After conceding 14 goals in 13 games and not getting any penalty kicks last season, there is a likelihood of a better score margin for the Cascades in 2022.
Key Player: Harneet Dadrao
The UNBC Timberwolves are another one of the BC teams that will welcome players off a League 1 BC season, as several of their student-athletes played with the Victoria Highlanders. Head coach Neil Sedgwick, who coached the Highlanders, makes his way back to UNBC, where he will look to lead the Timberwolves to a stronger record than their dismal 1-9-2 from 2021.
Kiana Swift is bound to be a critical player for them this season after earning MVP honours last year and playing a significant part with the Highlanders in League 1. While Swift’s role will be important, the Timberwolves will also need to shore things up in their defensive end after conceding 30 goals in 12 games last season.
Are the Timberwolves going to win Canada West? It’s not likely, but there’s certainly a good chance of growth this season, and they’ll be doing it in some of the best-looking kits in the country.
Key Player: Kiana Swift
The Victoria Vikes are always an intriguing team, none more so than in 2022. While the Victoria Highlanders played in League 1 BC, they were a mix of UNBC and UVic players and those from outside of U SPORT. Additionally, defender Tess Vande Vegte played with Altitude FC, also in League 1.
However, the program, led by former Canadian women’s national team staple Tracy David, has been a strong team over the years, and there is little reason to expect that not to continue in 2022. In 2021, they finished with a record of 4-5-3 but struggled to score more than a goal each game.
This season, the goal will be to keep pace and compete with the likes of UBC, TWU and MacEwan and potentially claim a spot at the national championships. However, team cohesion may take a few weeks as David introduces 11 new faces to the roster.
Although there is a large first-year presence on the squad, Vad e Vegte, Emma Skalik, Abby Mackenzie, and Kayley Lidstone return, having all played over 1000 minutes last season.
In goal, Lidstone will hope to build on a solid first season that saw her only concede 15 goals, as she played every minute for the Vikes. Now, as a second year, she is poised to offer more stability, potentially allowing the team to attack more.
In terms of additions to the group, keep an eye on former Team Alberta defensive midfielder Sophie Fingarson, who will likely play significant minutes as a rookie breaking up some of the Pacific Division’s potent attacks.
There’s a lot to like about the roster, but it has some clear areas where opposing teams, especially near the top, are simply better. That being said, the Vikes have been known to challenge teams week in and week out, making them no easy opponent, regardless of their form.
Key Player: Tess Vande Vegte