As her teams enters the 2019 season, Danielle Robertson says the women’s soccer program is the strongest she’s seen in her three years at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Robertson, who played for the Upper Island Riptide while growing up in the Comox Valley, plays goalkeeper for the WolfPack women’s team that has struggled to wins games the past two seasons. However, the squad compiled a winning record this pre-season, losing only a pair of games in Saskatchewan.
“We’ve added some really talented rookies to the roster, and our veteran players are connecting on the pitch better than ever,” said Robertson, adding new coach Mark Pennington has “introduced some new systems of play that I think will be really effective as well.”
Pennington, who played university soccer in his native England before coming to Canada, has coached women’s soccer at Trinity Western University and at UBC.
He said TRU was probably the better team in exhibition losses to the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina, but was punished for lapses in concentration, and for not being effective at the other end of the field.
In its most recent exhibition match, the WolfPack dug itself out of a hole to claim victory over UBCO in Kelowna.
“It was a really interesting game,” Pennington said. “Maybe 30 minutes in, we found ourselves down 3-0. Just having some lapses in concentration at the back, and we were punished, and lapses up front.”
But the team re-grouped at half-time, and came out on top 5-3.
“They showed that they have a bit of fight in them, and some heart,” Pennington said. “That’s something we’re trying to build in them, because they’ve been a bit fragile from that perspective.”
He was impressed with the team’s 4-1 road win over Winnipeg in the pre-season.
“It’s been a process,” he said. “And for me as well, trying to figure out who’s who, who’s going to step up at those crucial times.”
Besides Robertson, Courtenay-raised midfielder Camryn Curts is another key member of the WolfPack. Also in her third year, Curts was a finalist for newcomer of the year for athletes at TRU in 2017/18. She too is a product of the Riptide program, as is Natalie Verdiel, a fifth-year player from Powell River who is TRU’s co-captain.
“I think the biggest thing for us this year will be keeping our composure — being emotionally intelligent on the pitch,” Robertson said. “We have the skill now, but if we get our heads down after making mistakes or conceding goals, we won’t have a chance. Although this has been something we’ve struggled with in past seasons, we seem to be doing a lot better at it now. If you look at some of our pre-season games, we’ve started off slow and conceded goals early, but come back to win the game, oftentimes by quite a margin.”
Besides making playoffs, Pennington would like to see improvement and progression in the women’s soccer program this season.
“We’ve talked about creating a team identity,” he said. “Instead of being outshot in games, try to outshoot teams, regardless of result. It’s more about showing progression, and showing the program’s moving in the right direction. It’s a difficult balance. Especially in the women’s game, if you can create a buy-in from the group, they’ll go that extra two per cent harder for each other, and for the coach and the program. That can be the difference between losing a game, and maybe a tie or stealing a win.”
Courtenay connection shines in Calgary
The WolfPack women kicked off the Canada West season last Thursday with a 1-0 loss to the UNBC Timberwolves in Prince George. They bounced back with a solid effort against the University of Calgary, playing the Dinos to a 1-1 draw.
U of C was ranked No. 7 in the country in the preseason rankings.
Robertson and Curts were integral to the draw.
Curts scored the TRU goal in the 31st minute, on a pass from Smithers product Chantal Gammie.
Robertson, meanwhile, made 12 saves – including seven in the first half – to preserve the draw.
The Wolfpack were outshot 13-4 in the game.
Their home opener is Sept. 13 against the MacEwan University Griffins of Edmonton.