KINGSTON, ON – In the 58 times the UBC Thunderbirds and Trinity Western Spartans have met in U SPORTS Women’s Soccer since 2001, the Thunderbirds have taken six Canada West titles, the Spartans nine.
On a game-by-game count, the Thunderbirds have won 27 times, the Spartans 19, with 12 draws.
Yet, despite all the Canada West regular season and playoff battles, it’s a 2015 match that still looms large – that year’s U SPORTS Championship, where UBC downed TWU 3-0 on their home pitch, winning the only national championship clash between the two sides until now.
On Sunday, the two sides battle for the 2023 U SPORTS Championship at Richardson Stadium at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, ready to write the latest chapter in what’s become a premier BC and Canadian soccer rivalry.
With mutual respect along with an intense detest of one another, the two Vancouver-area teams battle for the third time this season, with the weight of a national championship looming large. While the two groups see each other often through U SPORTS and League 1 BC, it hasn’t developed much of a friendly rivalry — moresoa proper Canadian derby match.
In their most recent meeting on Nov. 3, TWU defeated UBC on penalty kicks to win the Canada West title, and there’s no love lost between the two sides as they approach a national championship grudge match.
Meanwhile, their lone regular season match ended 1-0 for UBC.
“We respect them immensely, and it’ll be another great battle. It was like that last week in the Canada West Final,” Roxburgh said after winning the national semifinal. “It’s two good teams going at it. One team won a small trophy, and let’s hope the same team can win a big trophy.”
Competing on several fronts, from recruiting, to summer leagues, and convincing each others’ approach to football is a better one, there’s always something on the line when the two sides meet in university soccer.
Whether it be simply points in the Canada West standings, bragging rights in the Lower Mainland, or a showdown of top players in Canada, extra motivation isn’t hard to come by in the derby.
Winning is the standard
For both, however, the standard of winning national championships remains. In many ways, it’s the minimum expectation each year for the programs, knowing their history in the last two decades gives them enough confidence to push on each season.
Since 2001, both sides have captured five U SPORTS titles.
Still, it’s been 10 years since TWU claimed their last national title, and four since UBC got their hands on the U SPORTS banner in Victoria in 2019. Regardless of faults at the last few national championships, both sides entered the 2023 U SPORTS season with the realistic target of playing for gold on Sunday.
“We wanted to be playing on Nov. 12 and that’s the goal we set at the start of the season, we knew it was a possibility and that it would be tough,” UBC head coach Jesse Symons said. “We lost to Trinity just last week, and want that second chance so that’s a big opportunity.”
Through the tournament, both sides have been dominant, with the Spartans knocking off the host Queen’s Gaels 2-1 in extra time in the quarterfinal, before outclassing the Laval Rouge et Or 3-0 in the semifinal, dispatching the RSEQ champions without issue.
At the same time, UBC shut down Cassandra Provost and the uOttawa Gee-Gees, before beating the defending U SPORTS Champion Montreal Carabins in two close 1-0 matchups, a pair of close wins, similar to how they captured the title in 2019.
“It’s been a lot like it was in 2019, these close games where you try not to look at the clock, because when you do, the time moves slow,” UBC fourth-year Jacqueline Tyrer said, looking at the 2019 tournament in her rookie season, and this year’s edition. “We just try to keep strong, give our best and stay focused in those games.”
Despite the two sides having immense experience with one another, they only faced each other once in the Canada West regular season, due to a scheduling adjustment having them miss out on their usual home-and-away setup. Still, many of the players went head to head in the summer with TWU-affiliated Unity FC, and UBC affiliated, albeit now defunct Nautsa’mawt FC.
Rarely has there been a definitive better team between the two, with UBC often opting for more wide attacking play, while TWU control the midfield. Both coaches have learned each others’ tendencies, and each time they play, there’s an equal chance at victory falling towards either squad.
“We see them often, we have an idea about what they’re about,” TWU veteran Maddie Melnychuk said. “But we’ve prepared all season for this, so I think it should be a good game”
Despite familiarity and intensity between the sides, the match still likely comes down to the battle of standout players. For UBC, that involves getting the best out of forward Katalin Tolnai, midfielder Sophie Damian, and their backline of Ella Sunde, Sarah Rollins, Jacqueline Tyrer, and Sophia Ferreria.
Meanwhile, TWU midfielders Sophie Crowther and Olvia Kranjcec, along with defender Tilly James and goalkeeper Hannah Miller will be critical.
“It’s awesome to see two Canada West teams make the final,” James said. “I think it just attributes to how strong our league is and it’ll be a good matchup. UBC is a great team, and so are we.”
Playing for Anna
When the TWU Spartans have hit this season, former talismanic striker Anna Dunn has been in their minds as she courageously battles a rare form of bone cancer. Having played in the 2021 U SPORTS Final alongside many current Spartans, it unified their group beyond the pitch this season.
“Anna was a special player that we had the privilege of gracing our program, but more importantly she is a special person and someone who left a mark on each of our lives,” Roxburgh said. “Even the young kids that don’t know or didn’t play with her, but they know how special she is.”
While the Spartans haven’t used her battle as a complete rallying cry, it puts soccer in perspective, and in some ways, alleviates a little bit of pressure heading into the U SPORTS Final.
“It really puts soccer in perspective,” Roxburgh added. “It helps us realize there are battles that are way more important in life.”
With Anna’s battle in their minds, the Spartans and Thunderbirds are bound for a feisty U SPORTS Final, and one that will undoubtedly have those in BC wishing the match were back in the home province.
Although the match is three time zones away, the traveling support for the two sides has been immense, and lays the platform for a dramatic final day. The two sides may have a long and intense history through their 41 previous regular season and playoff battles, but Sunday’s match might be the biggest.
After all, it’s not just another chapter to the storied rivalry; there’s a U SPORTS title on the line.