Two Sunshine Coast elite soccer players have been recruited to varsity teams for the 2021-22 school year.
Goalkeeper Mary Wood will be playing for the University of Winnipeg’s Wesmen this fall, while Ella Campbell will be heading south to join Webber International University’s Warriors in Florida, about an hour’s drive east of Tampa.
The players, who graduated from high school this year, have been playing together for High Performance League team Mountain United FC on the Lower Mainland.
University of Winnipeg had a tough 2019 season, finishing last in the Prairie Division of Canada West, with one win, one draw and 12 losses. Last year’s season was cancelled because of COVID-19.
Head coach Amy Anderson said they are pleased Wood will be joining the program. “I am looking forward to seeing how she will progress this season. She is coming into an ideal situation with other goalies who want to work hard as well,” she said.
Wood, 18, who’s working two jobs to save for school on top of goalkeeping practice, said while COVID-19 has been hard on motivation due to game cancellations, she’s gearing up to refocus heading into pre-season.
The Gibsons resident will be pursuing a degree in criminal justice at the university, with an academic scholarship and six bursaries from School District No. 46 to her name.
For years Wood had set her sights on the United States for varsity play, but she reversed that decision following the events triggered by the murder of George Floyd last summer, despite interest shown by U.S. schools. “Everything that was happening at that moment was scary,” she said.
With U of Winnipeg locked in place, Wood is also preparing to acclimatize to deep-cold prairie winters. “They have indoor soccer fields, thank goodness,” she said. “I’m buying lots of very big coats.”
Campbell, meanwhile, will be making the opposite climate adjustment – “I’m already trying to get to used to it right now, but yeah, it’s going to be very hot,” she said of her preparations for Florida play.
Warriors head coach Erik Casterline said the team was looking for outside back players who could keep possession and get involved in attacks as the team evolves its style of play.
“We were impressed with her ability on the ball and also her 1v1 defending ability,” he said in an email. “The fact that she is such a dedicated student athlete who does well not only on the pitch but also in the classroom made it an easy decision.”
The Warriors, who compete in Division 1 of the Sun Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), had four wins, nine losses and one tie in 2020, putting them in sixth place.
Campbell, who will be pursuing a degree in kinesiology, received an athletic scholarship, guaranteeing her a minimum of about $100,000 over four years.
The 17-year-old Sechelt resident said it’s been disappointing missing out on games because of the pandemic but has already started with a demanding training package from the school on top of three-day-a-week practice schedule.
“Right now, I feel like I’m fit enough to play, I’m just not entirely sure what to expect,” she said. “Focusing on myself and getting myself as fit as I can be is really what I want to do right now.”