BREAKDOWN: League 1 BC powers U SPORTS Canada West Pacific Division

VANCOUVER, BC  –  Following a medal-less showing at the 2022 U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championships, the Canada West conference looks for a better year in 2023. 

Through generations of U SPORTS soccer, Canada West has proven to be the pre-eminent conference for women’s soccer, particularly the Pacific Division, with the UBC Thunderbirds having won seven U SPORTS titles, the nation’s most. 

The 2023 Canada West season will see 10 teams qualify for the playoffs, five from the Pacific Division and five from the Prarie. The fourth place hosts fifth place in a one-match play-in knockout game, with the winner advancing to play the top seed in the quarter-final. 

Unlike the Canada West Prairie Division however, the Pacific side is dominated by League 1 BC connections, with TWU, UBC, and TRU using formal affiliations, while several other athletes play with the Victoria Highlanders, TSS Rovers, among other semi-pro summer clubs.

As the season approaches, with kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25, 49 Sports previews the campaign for each program. 



Katalin Tolnai (UBC Thunderbirds)

The UBC Thunderbirds are always the team to beat in Canada West, and it is no different his season for head coach Jesse Symons and the Vancouver-based group. Yet, it’s a new chapter, as Canada West’s all-time leading goalscorer Danielle Steer has moved on from the program. 

While Steer may be gone, there are still a lot of intriguing pieces on the Thunderbirds in 2023 — notably on the veteran side, Katalin Tolnai and Sophia Ferrieria, while youngers Holly Whelan and Jayda Thompson can expect more significant minutes. 

Like TWU and Unity, UBC also enters the season after a League 1 campaign, where they qualified for the semifinals as Nautsamawt FC before falling to Unity. In that season, Tolnai started strong with four goals in seven matches but missed the back end of the campaign due to an injury. Still, the form she showcased through League 1 and U SPORTS makes her threatening, coming off a 2022 season where she scored 17 goals in 19 matches, bringing her Thunderbirds total to 23 goals in 49  games. 

Meanwhile, Thompson enters this season with the possibility of filling Steer’s void, having led League 1 Ontario in goalscoring with 18 goals in 14 matches with the Woodbridge Strikers. Entering her second season at UBC, she will continue to build an on-field relationship with Tolnai, as the two can potentially be one of the nation’s best-attacking forces. 

While the attack is undoubtedly an essential factor for UBC, fullback Sophia Ferreria also comes into the season at a higher level than years past, having earned a call-up to the Portuguese U23 squad in the spring. She also welcomes her younger sister Ava Ferreria into the group for the 2023 season. Yet, the backline will likely remain consistent from years past, with Jaqueline Tyrer, Emma Hooton, and Ella Nuttall-Smith complimenting Ferreria. 

Sophia Ferreira playing for Portugal

Outside of those above, keep an eye on dynamic midfielder Sophie Damian who has a knack for threading passes, Nisa Rihal and former national team development defender Sarah Rollins, who comes into her rookie season. 

Often transitioning between a 3-4-3 and more fluid attacking formations, the 2023 season presents a new challenge for the Thunderbirds, yet they seem to have the pieces to thrive at similar, if not higher, levels than they have since winning the U SPORTS Championship in 2019. 

Much of the season could come down to an early matchup with the Spartans, as the two, often top teams, clash on Aug. 27, the season’s second match and their only meeting. 

Player to watch: Jayda Thomspon


Maddie Melnychuk (TWU Spartans)

The TWU Spartans start the season with tired legs but feature a cohesive group that should contend for the Canada West and U SPORTS titles while battling with conference rivals UBC and Mount Royal.

Many Spartans spent the spring and summer playing in League 1 BC as Unity FC and were one of the more consistent teams in the league, featuring sides affiliated with UBC, TRU, and UNBC, among others. At the same time, they struggled at points against more technically sound opposition, but their consistent efforts and veteran leadership helped them grow into the season. 

The Spartans finished the League 1 season as runners-up in the playoffs, losing to the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy in the final at BC Place, before moving on to the League 1 Canada Inter-Pronvicial Championship, where they claimed bronze. 

With head coach Graham Roxburgh leading the team for the 24th straight season, they look to carry their consistency from League 1, with Unity/TWU talents such as Sophie Crowther entering her second season while adding NCAA transfer Bryana Buttar. 

Bryana Buttar with Unity FC (Sarah Parker)

Crowther comes off a League 1 campaign with five goals, while Buttar found the back of the net six times for Unity. While neither have fully established themselves among Canada West’s best at TWU, they are sure to play a significant role this season. 

Still, the attacking line this season will be led by second-year Charis Wardrope, who quickly settled into the U SPORTS game as a rookie, scoring eight goals and an assist in 13 appearances last season. 

At the same time, veterans Maddie Melnychuk, Sierra Halldorson, and Tilly James will look to carry the form that saw TWU concede a conference second-best 11 goals conceded in 2022. Meanwhile, expect fifth-year goalkeeper Hannah Miller to retain her starting spot. 

Expectations are always high for the Spartans, and that’s no different in 2023, especially considering their League 1 season. Still, there will be a massive focus on consistency and managing minutes early in the season after a gruelling summer. 

Player to watch: Sophie Crowther


Catriona McFadden (Josh Werle)

The MRU Cougars return to the Pacific Division after their year in the Prarie Division and will look to carry over much of their success against difficult UBC and TWU programs at the top of the conference. 

Led by head coach Tino Fusco, the Cougars enter the 2023 campaign coming off a successful regular season in 2022, which saw them top the Prarie Division with a 10-3-1 record, highlighted by a five-game win streak to end the regular season. 

Despite losing to the TRU Wolfpack on penalties in a dramatic quarterfinal match, the Cougars return with a strong core this season while also adding impressive recruits. Leading scorer Catriona McFadden returns for her third year after scoring nine goals in 15 matches last season, while consistent midfielder Monet Alonso-Cruz will also continue to play an integral role. 

The Cougars built off well-rounded play in 2022, conceding 16 goals, tied for the least in the division, but will face tougher tests with two matches against high-flying TWU and a single home game against UBC. 

Still, there is lots of positivity for the Cougars this year, with the Canada West Final Four being their expectations, even if it means likely having to push past one of the pre-eminent top two in the Pacific. 

Key player: Monet Alonso-Cruz


Ainsley Grether takes a shot with Rivers FC (Rivers FC)

The TRU Wolfpack fight an uphill battle each season in Canada West, yet the program has seen significant improvements since they began competing in League 1 BC in 2022 as Rivers FC. Head coach Mark Pennington led both groups and helped the group play some attractive football at points, despite finishing last in League 1 this summer. 

While their preseason preparation has been impacted by wildfires in BC and the surrounding areas, they had pre-planned trips to Oregon, which aided their preparations for the season, as they went undefeated against Warner Pacific, Corban University and Lower Columbia College. 

Although the preseason prep faced weaker competition than Canada West’s elite, it provided a strong point of reference for the group as they looked to rebound from a poor League 1 BC season. 

“It’s difficult to tell the level of competition we played; it’s hard to know how they would fare in our division,” Pennington said. “It was a good opportunity to play everybody and was a good experience for everybody.”

Emily Clarke (TRU Wolfpack)

As they build on 2022’s fourth-place finish, the Wolfpack will likely turn to a centreback pairing of Raiya Rumo and Alexis Virgo, while veterans Ainsley Grether and Emily Clark look to continue their attacking connections for another season. 

While there are specific positives looking ahead to the season, it will be a challenge for the Wolfpack to crack into the top three, as UBC, TWU and MRU each scored over 34 goals in 2022, more than half of TRU’s 17. Despite some attacking talent, a borderline playoff finish appears to be the most likely result for the group. 

Player to watch: Ainsley Grether


Tess Vande Vegt (Victoria Vikes)

The Victoria Vikes are in the murky middle of Canada West, and while they had many players playing the summer in League 1 BC, they were separate from a cohesive unit. Still, after sneaking into the play-in match against TRU last season, they hope to go further in 2023. 

Through the 2022 regular season, the Vikes were the lone Canada West team to come out with an even goal differential, scoring and conceding 17 goals through 14 matches to a record of 5-5-4. This year, however, they look to more contributions from attacking players, including last year’s leading scorer, Ruby Nicholas, who scored four goals in 12 matches last season. 

With head coach Tracy David leading the team for the 22nd consecutive season, expect a well-rounded and tactically sound Vikes squad, which won’t go down easily against even top opponents. At the heart of their team, look for midfielder Tess Vande Vegte, who spent the summer with hard-working League 1 BC side Altitude FC, where she had the chance to play alongside 2021 U SPORTS National Champion, MacEwan’s Maya Morell. 

(Victoria Vikes)

Among the recruits to track are Queen’s Gaels transfer Taiya Scorey, who comes into the midfield, and League 1 Ontario defender Alice Kopp, heading west from the North Toronto Nitros. 

It has only been three seasons since the Vikes hosted and performed well at the U SPORTS National Championship, and 2023 presents another opportunity to get back to that stage, albeit a tough test in their division. 

Not impacting their current season, but it’s been an intriguing summer for the Vikes, with former midfielder Jackie Sawicki representing the Philippines at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

Player to Watch: Tess Vande Vegte


(UNBC Timberwolves)

The northern-most team in the Pacific Division, Prince George’s UNBC Timberwolves, made a strong effort in the 2022 playoff race but came up one point short of Victoria for the match. Yet, this season sees many returnees and a talented recruiting class. 

Led by head coach Neil Sedgwick, several players spent time with League 1 BC’s Victoria Highlanders this summer. Although they struggled,  there was a clear improvement from the inaugural League 1 campaign. 

While goalscoring was an issue at points for the Timberwolves in 2022, it won’t get any easier, with leading scorer Paige Payne having left the program, bringing her eight goals in 13 matches with her. With her absence, no UNBC player on the 2023  roster has scored three or more goals in a season — likely leaving the solution to scoring by committee. 

Alongside Payne, fellow Canada West all-stars Mara McCleary and Kiana Swift have also left the program, leaving voids throughout the roster, opening roles for younger players to claim through opportunities. Second-year defender Kambria Mellum will likely see more significant minutes after a strong rookie season, while veteran striker Claire Turner will be called upon to elevate her attacking contributions. 

Kambria Mellum (UNBC Timberwolves)

Unlike several teams, the Timberwolves have also developed some talent, adding Timberwolves Academy players Alysa Leclerc and Amneet Toor to a recruiting class featuring seven new players. 

The Timberwolves also have some pretty fly new kits for this season, adding to a line of strong on-field looks, which include Indigenous-designed jerseys for several varsity teams. 

Key player: Kambria Mellum


The UBCO Heat  come into the 2023 season looking to edge their way into the playoffs after missing out in 2022, despite having a promising campaign the season prior. While the wildfires surrounding Kelowna have understandably drawn attention away from their preseason preparations, including cancelled preseason games against Douglas College, the Heat still have hopes in 2023 under head coach Craig Smith. 

Having not made the postseason since the 2016 season, attention rests upon the attacking play of UBCO, which has struggled in past years, only scoring 12 goals in 2022, the second least in the division. Yet, there is potential for improvement, with forward Amanda White entering her third season witht he program, looking to build her four goal sophomore season. 

The fires have certainly impacted UBCO heading into this season, and their opening matches remain in potential doubt. However, at time of writing, they are still set to host the Victoria Vikes on Aug. 25. 

Key player: Amanda White


Jessica Fennell (UFV Cascades)

Coming off a season that saw them win just a single game, it won’t take very much for the UFV Cascades to improve in 2023. However, this year will likely be a development season for the group, which adds 13 new recruits, one of the leagrest recruiting classes across U SPORTS. 

At the same time, they also will find their feet under new head coach Ari Adams, who returns to university soccer in the Lower Mainland, having been an assistant coach with the NCAA’s SFU Red Leafs from 2011-2014. 

She takes over for former head coach Niko Marcina, who led the team for two seasons, compiling a record of 7-12-7, and missing the playoffs twice. While there was no published reason for his departure, Adams’ introduction breaths a fresh voice into the UFV program. 

While the Cascades approach the season as a fresh group, a key player will be midfielder Jessica Fennell, who played eight matches with the TSS Rovers of League 1 BC, in an extremely structured system under their head coach Chelsea Hanneson. Although the Cascades don’t have a partnered League 1 club, Fennell’s play with TSS proved she can continue to play an important role in Canada West. 

With the Marcino-era behind the group, there’s a reinvigorated hope within the UFV camp, yet the 2023 season may be slightly early to see results based fruition. 

Key player: Jesica Fennelll


  1. TWU Spartans
  2. UBC Thunderbirds
  3. MRU Cougars
  4. Victoria Vikes
  5. TRU Wolfpack
  6. UNBC Timberwolves
  7. UFV Cascades
  8. UBCO Heat


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