Canada West teams take on U SPORTS Nationals with trophy dreams

TORONTO, ON – The only conference with three berths at the U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championships,  Canada West teams head to Quebec City with lofty goals. 

With the UBC Thunderbirds losing just once through the regular season and playoffs, the TWU Spartans getting great form from electric rookies, and the Calgary Dinos responding quickly in th playoffs, there are factors to be excited for in each side. 

So as they take the longest trips of all teams, 49 Sports looks at the Canada West trio heading to Université Laval. 

Canada West schedule: All games streamed on CBC Sports’ website

  • Calgary Dinos vs Montreal Carabins  – 8:00 am PT
  • TWU Spartans v uOttawa Gee-Gees – 10:30 am PT
  • UBC Thunderbirds v Laval Rouge et Or – 3:30 pm PT

UBC Thunderbirds

(UBC Athletics)

Coming off their first Canada West title since 2016, the UBC Thunderbirds are in fine form approaching the 2022 U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championships. Really, they’re the outright favourites. 

It’s been a record-setting season under head coach Jesse Symons, with the Thunderbirds posting 13 wins, tying a program record. Meanwhile, no team has led them to less than two goals in 14 regular season games and three playoff matches. 

With attacking threats Katalin Tolnai and Danielle Steer playing as stacked strikers, the Thunderbirds have one of the nation’s most potent attacks in a year where Steer, the historical number nine, has shifted deeper to support Tolnai. Although tested in the summer with League 1 BC’s Varsity FC, the shift has made UBC one of the most attacking teams in U SPORTS, propelling Tolnai to become the best player nationwide. 

Tolani finished the CanaWestst season with 17 goals after leading League 1 BC in the summer, while Steer potted 15 and eight assists to claim the all-time Canada West scoring title. 

Other bright spots from UBC’s regular season include dynamic midfielder Sophie Damian, who has not only a shot from a distance but often supplies the two forwards. At the same time, second-year Sophia Ferrieria brings a calm presence to the right-back position while also providing pinpoint crosses into the box. 

Heading to Quebec City, the Thunderbirds look to avenge their semifinal loss from last season when they fell to the MacEwan Griffins in extra time, only to miss out on a bronze medal in a penalties loss to Laval Rouge et Or. 

The top-seeded Thunderbirds, first in every U SPORTS Top-10 ranking this season, take on the Rouge et Or on Laval’s home pitch in the quarter-finals, creating a matchup fitting of what should be a stellar atmosphere. Laval, the RSEQ runner-ups, won’t be an easy task, but the Thunderbirds won’t shy away from playing their exciting brand of football, likely looking to get a quick start. 

Key Player: Katalin Tolnai

TWU Spartans

The TWU Spartans have always been a top U SPORTS women’s soccer program, but recently, the national championship has eluded them. Yet, despite not coming into this year’s tournament as favourites like last year, there’s a lot to like about the Langley, BC-based group. 

In 2021, the Spartans didn’t lose their first match until the U SPORTS Gold Medal game against the MacEwan Griffins. This season hasn’t been as smooth a ride, despite continuously ranking among the best in Canada. TWU finished the 2022 Canada West season 9-2-3, with those two losses and a playoff defeat, all against UBC, being the only ones in their previous 30 matches. 

Led by head coach Graham Roxburgh, TWU conceded 14 goals through the regular season, just an average of one a game, establishing the third-best defensive record in the conference. Tilly James, Jessica Vance, and Mya Bajpai held down the backline for much of the season, while midfielders Maddie Melnychuk and Sierra Halldorson sat slightly deeper to control possession. 

On the other attacking side, however, rookies Sophie Crowther and Charis Wardrope brought a fresh look to the line. Wardrope, a first-year forward, earned Canada West All-Rookie team honoured after leading TWU with eight goals, tied for sixth in the conference. In comparison, Crowther had 12 assists, second in Canada West. 

The Spartans won’t have it easy in the quarter-finals in Quebec City, facing the OUA Champion uOttawa Gee-Gees, who didn’t only win their conference but also won gold at the FISU Americas tournament in Mexico, defeating top sides from Mexico and Brazil en route to the top spot. 

Key player: Charis Wardrope

Calgary Dinos 

(Calgary Dinos Athletics)

Despite losing to the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West semifinal, the Calgary Dinos head to Quebec City as Canada West bronze medalists after beating the TRU Wolfpack in the bronze medal match.

The only conference with three berths to teh tournament, the Dinos won’t go to Quebec with small dreams either — they’ve shown they can play with and beat top teams. They were the only side that defeated the UBC Thunderbirds in the regular season. 

Led by third-year Rachel Barlow, Calgary is an intriguing team in how they match up against opponents. While always relying on Barlow, the way she links up with fellow forward Jayden Berg and midfielders such as Erica Mysko tends to change depending on the opposition’s defensive structure. 

The Dinos are a team that likes to possess the ball but often struggles to do so against top teams, making the counter-attack likely an essential factor for them if they hope to succeed at Nationals. 

Barlow topped the team in nearly every category, scoring nine goals in 17 matches while providing 14 assists, making her a pivotal lynchpin to the Dinos’ attacking success. 

Facing the RSEQ Champion Montreal Carabins won’t be easy for Calgary, with the Carabins playing an ultra-attacking and somewhat flashy style. Yet, if there’s a way to shut down aggressive forwards Maxyme Nobert and Megan Sauve, there could be a way through to the semifinals for the Albertans.

Key Player: Rachel Barlow

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