Dayle Jeras, Shelby Beck and Jade Palm have all played critical roles in elevating the University of the Fraser Valley women’s soccer program to its current place among the nation’s elite.
Their contributions will be celebrated on Saturday, coinciding with the final Canada West regular season home game their distinguished careers. Prior to the Cascades’ 5 p.m. tilt vs. the Winnipeg Wesmen at Abbotsford Senior Secondary, the trio of graduating fifth-year players will be honoured in an on-field ceremony.
“I’m already planning on crying,” Beck said with a chuckle, anticipating the emotional nature of the occasion. “It’s crazy. It went by so fast – way too fast.”
For Beck and Jeras, the journey to this soccer milestone has been made in tandem. The two Langley products have known each other since they were five years old, and they’ve played on the same team since they were in Grade 6. They both arrived at UFV in the fall of 2011 as part of head coach Rob Giesbrecht’s first full recruiting class, joining a program that was coming off a Canada West championship and a bronze medal at CIS nationals.
“It means a lot, because we’re best friends,” Jeras said. “Going through it all together, it’s been awesome. It’s nothing you can really replicate, or hope for anything more than that.”
The duo has traveled different paths to their current status as impact players for the Cascades, though. Centre back Jeras cemented herself in the starting lineup as a sophomore, earned team MVP honours her third year, and served as team captain in her fourth and fifth years.
“It’s been awesome to see her develop as a leader,” Giesbrecht said of Jeras. “We rely on her heavily. She’s a very smart player, a very good distributor of the ball, and she’s really taken on leading on and off the field and doing it very well. She does a fantastic job of looking out for her teammates and having their backs.”
Jeras said that wearing the captain’s armband the last two years has been a gratifying experience.
“There’s a lot to do,” she said. “But it’s so rewarding on this team, because there’s so many amazing girls who have accomplished so much. It’s nice to be able to have the opportunity to reach out to them, and when I do, I usually get a positive response from it.
“Rob lets the three of us (seniors) do a lot of leadership on this team, so the trust that he gives to us, it makes the role we’ve all been given more rewarding in that way.”
She didn’t play much her first two seasons, but a conversation with Giesbrecht about what it would take to make an impact on the pitch marked a turning point. Giesbrecht told her she needed to seriously devote herself to fitness, so Beck spent the summer of 2013 working tirelessly with a personal trainer. She lost 30 pounds, earned her way onto the pitch in the fall, and started scoring goals. She’s been a fixture in the starting lineup ever since.
“That summer I dedicated my whole life to just getting fit and being ready to play,” Beck said. “That’s all I did – ate salad every day, and ran and ran and ran and ran until I was fit enough to be a starter.
“Knowing that I could actually accomplish something like that was such a big reward.”
Beck was the Cascades’ co-leader in goals last season with six, and when the playoffs rolled around, she scored one of the biggest goals in program history. Her strike in the 71st minute of the Canada West semifinals was the difference in a 1-0 victory over the Alberta Pandas that punched UFV’s ticket to the CIS national championship. The Cascades would go on to claim the conference silver medal and a fourth-place result at nationals.
“It was probably one of the most exciting times in my life,” Beck recalled. “Just knowing that we’d put so much effort in, we were the underdogs, and that we wanted to win so badly we were willing to do anything we could. That feeling of scoring, I can’t even describe how awesome it felt.”
Palm, a right back who hails from Powell River, B.C., spent her first two post-secondary soccer seasons with the Langara Falcons of the PacWest conference. Following her second year, she joined a club team out of Burnaby coached by Cascades assistant coach Matt Holbrook, who made sure Giesbrecht knew about her.
“Matt told me, ‘I’ve got this athletic defender – she’s a bit raw, but she’s got potential,’” Geisbrecht related. “So I said sure, let’s take a look, let’s talk to her. And Jade has been phenomenal.
“When she’s not in our lineup, we really see it,” Giesbrecht added, noting that Palm’s absence due to injury has been the common denominator in all three of the Cascades’ losses this season. “She’s an outstanding athlete – she’s got a great nose for goal, and she has a willingness to put herself in harm’s way to get goals.”
Indeed, one of the distinctive elements of Palm’s game is her ability to get on the end of balls on set pieces. She scored four goals as a first-year Cascade in 2013, and she’s scored eight goals in total over the course of her three seasons on campus – a remarkable number for a defender.
“Whenever I’m on corners, I’m always looking to put it in the back of the net,” Palm said. “Anything I can do to help (offensively) is really nice.”
Palm had also considered joining the UBC Thunderbirds after her time at Langara, but ended up choosing UFV.
“All the girls are super-awesome – it’s like a family here, and all the coaches are really supportive,” she said.
Jeras, Beck and Palm are all focused on finishing the season strong with an eye on returning to CIS nationals. In the bigger picture, they’ve pondered the legacy they’re leaving at UFV.
“All three of us have been a big part of building the program from what it was to what it is now,” Jeras said. “And it seems like something that even when we leave, it’s going to continue.”
Two-game home set for Cascades soccer women
Saturday’s Senior Night festivities are just part of a big weekend for the CIS No. 10-ranked Cascades, who sit fourth in the West Division at 6-3-1 and are looking to improve their seeding with the playoffs fast approaching.
On Friday, the Cascades take on the Manitoba Bisons (6-2-2) at 4 p.m. at Abby Senior, and they’re back at it on Saturday vs. the Wesmen (1-8-1) at 5 p.m.