TORONTO, ONT – For the first time since the 2019 season, travel and normality returned to Canada West women’s soccer. There was cross-division play and plane rides, in addition to the in-division ferries and highway hauls upon team buses.
Whether 14 or 15 games in the regular season, every team had notable aspects—records set on the West Coast, heartbreak amid success in Alberta, and several other impressive accolades.
Now, as the conference’s remaining eight teams look ahead to the quarter-finals, 49 Sports looks back at three takeaways from the regular season and play-in matches.
Thunderbirds break records and plan for the future
The UBC Thunderbirds are set for playoffs after a record-breaking season, as they managed to tie a program high 13 wins, all while striker Danielle Steer not only led the Canada West Pacific division in scoring but set a record with the most regular season points all-time.
Yet, while the program has found success in the past, winning its seventh national title in 2019, there have been changes in the approach this season, albeit using much more familiar personnel.
For Steer, it has meant playing a wide role this season, allowing Katalin Tolnai to slide into a more traditional number nine. Both have been stellar attacking threats throughout the year, combing for 24 goals and 15 assists, often linking up together when Steer cuts into more central areas. While the all-time record holder may be finished in U SPORTS after this season, Tolnai playing centrally, either as a false nine or outright forward, lays a strong foundation for 2023.
Meanwhile, at the back, Jacqueline Tyrer and Sophia Ferriera have continued their strong form as consistent presences, leading the Thunderbirds to the best defensive record in the conference, conceding just seven goals.
For head coach Jesse Symons and the Thunderbirds, the mentality is to win at all costs as they look for their first Canada West championship since 2016. Yet, the quarter-final against Regina match only means so much that the Thunderbirds have made the Final Four every year since their last title, failing to win.
“Our job now is to prepare for the playoffs,” Symons told UBC Athletics after the team’s final win over UFC. “To win 13 times this season, the first BC team ever to do that in the history of Canada West, and to match the highest points ever is pretty impressive. A good season, now the real season for us begins.”
In addition, with the MacEwan Griffins out of the picture, the Thunderbirds are outright favourites to win this year’s conference, if not the U SPORTS championship.
League 1 BC‘s Rivers FC powers TRU to a historic season
It’s been an unforgettable season for the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack as they stare down a quarter-final matchup with the Mount Royal Cougars. Coming into the season having never hosted a playoff match, the Wolfpack into the second round after beating the UVIC Vikes in a dramatic play-in penalty shootout.
While the play-in match was exhilarating, it’s been a big-picture season for the Wolfpack, led by veteran midfielders Camryn Curts, Ainsley Grether, and Emily Clarke, among others who entered the season after spending the summer playing regularly with Rivers FC in the inaugural League 1 BC season.
With the League 1 BC setup, many TRU players had a chance to find their rhythm and game fitness in the summer before stepping into the fall U SPORTS season as a strong, cohesive unit. It’s not the only reason TRU have hit a string of success, but it is undoubtedly a critical factor in their rapid rise.
Simply put, the League 1 BC season gave the Wolfpack a boost like they had never had before.
Clarke and Grether, who starred for Rivers, finished the CanWest season as TRU’s top scorers, with four goals apiece, while Curts added a pair before a difficult late-season injury.
Outside of a 2-0 win against the MRU Cougars, there was no standout single-match performance to turn the tides for the Wolfpack in the regular season, moreso of a consistent and clean effort each time they hit the field.
“It’s all about the team. All the staff has worked really hard, the team has worked super hard, and we are just really excited,” Head coach Mark Pennington told TRU Athletics after a 1-0 win over UNBC to clinch a playoff spot. “The sky is the limit for this group as we move forward into the playoffs, and I don’t think anyone in Canada West is going to want to play against us because we are a tough, resolute group that has a bit of belief about us.”
Hosting their first-ever playoff game, the 4v5 play-in matchup, things did not look good for the Wolfpack as they trailed the Victoria Vikes 1-0 heading into the final minutes. Yet, as luck had it, TRU earned a penalty kick in the 88th minute, as Grether made no mistake tying the match late.
Through the half hour of extra time and to an eventual penalty shootout, the Wolfpack won’t host another playoff game, but they’re into the next round to face the same MRU Cougars they beat 2-0 earlier in the year.
There’s something special brewing in Kamloops, and it’s not Okanagan beer — it’s the TRU Wolfpack women’s soccer program, as they eye a few more hops before the end of the season.
MacEwan Griffins fall out of playoffs in heartbreaking fashion
As the playoffs got underway, one of the best teams in the nation wasn’t in the running for the title. Last year’s U SPORTS champions, the MacEwan Griffins, missed out on the playoffs after an ineligible player played in 11 matches, forcing U SPORTS sanctioning upon their team.
With all the results from those matches turned into 1-0 losses, the Griffins missed out on the playoffs in heartbreaking, speechless fashion, leaving many, especially graduating athletes, absolutely stunned.
“My world came crashing down,” said MacEwan midfielder Grace Mwassalla in a statement, despite being set to return next season. “All our hard work and sacrifices since the summer were gone in the blink of an eye. Finding out we didn’t have enough points to qualify for playoffs and a reality I still refuse to believe.”
Despite MacEwan’s results being flipped to losses, the individual statistics remained, allowing Mwassala to top the scoring charts in Canada West with 14 goals, one more than UBC’s Steer.
The Griffins also dominated their opponents all season, playing an exciting and commanding brand of soccer, scoring a conference-topping 46 goals, an average of 3.29 per match. The Griffins also led the conference in combined individual points with 89.
With MacEwan eliminated, the Regina Cougars earned the final and fifth spot in the play-in round and beat the Manitoba Bisons on a 92nd-minute corner kick, booking themselves a matchup with the U SPORTS #1 UBC Thunderbirds.
Yet, the reality is not lost on Regina’s athletes. “We are approaching today’s match with gratitude,” Regina’s Jess Chow said in a tweet prior to the play-in match.
“Although we are thrilled with this opportunity to advance, our success was at the absolute heartbreak of another team. Let this be a reminder to all teams to ask the question, so a mistake like this never happens again.”
The situation with the Griffins is heartbreaking in every way, and there wil need to be closer looks at how the problem lasted until the season’s final day. However, planning for the future doesn’t dampen the sting of losing an incredibly successful 2022 Canada West campaign.