Shelby Beck couldn’t have imagined a better way to close the book on her university soccer career.
Last month, the Langley product traveled to Goiânia, Brazil to participate in the World University Futsal Championship as part of Team Canada. It was the first time Canada had sent an entry to the FISU (Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire) futsal championship, and Beck helped her squad to a surprising fourth-place finish.
(Futsal, for the novice footy fans in the crowd, is a five-a-side derivative of soccer which is played on a smaller field, generally indoors.)
Beck, a five-year standout with the Cascades, thought her university soccer career was over after the Cascades bowed out of the Canada West playoffs last fall. But she got one last thrill as a university athlete, representing Canada and serving as one of the team’s offensive catalysts, registering two goals and six assists during the tournament.
“The experience was something I will truly remember for the rest of my life,” she enthused. “Getting to wear the maple leaf and play in front of so many people and against so many talented countries was such a blessing, that I never expected I would get to experience.”
Beck savoured the entire whirlwind trip, which began with a three-day training camp in Calgary followed by a series of flights to Brazil that totalled over 24 hours.
“Usually you have a bit more time to get to know the players on your team, but we had to figure it out pretty quickly,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone on the team going in, but we bonded right away.”
Once in Brazil, Beck appreciated the warm welcome the athletes received from the tournament hosts. Team Canada’s flight arrangements caused them to miss the opening ceremony, but they were whisked to their accommodations in a bus with a police escort. The fans also responded positively to Team Canada – Beck said that everyone from kids in the stands to tourney volunteers were thrilled to receive the pins and temporary tattoos that the Canadians brought along.
“It made you feel more important than you thought you were,” she recalled with a chuckle.
On the pitch, Canada went 3-1 during pool play to finish second in their group, highlighted by wins over Kazakhstan (9-0), Bolivia (4-1) and New Zealand (4-1). Their lone loss came by a score of 16-0 to host Brazil, which would go on to win its fifth straight gold medal.
Canada’s scoring touch eluded them in the medal round – they fell to Russia in the semifinals and Portugal in the bronze medal game by matching 6-0 scores.
“I’m quite pleased with how we did,” Beck said. “Obviously we had hoped to win a medal, but we only lost to the top three teams all tournament long. That showed that we could compete. We’d only been together as a team for a couple days, whereas a lot of the other teams play together year-round and play futsal all the time instead of outdoor soccer.”
Beck said that one of the most exciting elements of the event was playing in front of large, loud, passionate crowds.
“Just seeing the other countries and how they cheer was incredible,” she said. “When we played Portugal, the Portuguese men’s team cheered the entire game – different songs and chants and stuff. It was a really neat experience.
“It was a little bit emotional when it ended – it went by so quickly – but it was definitely a memory I’ll have forever,” she added. “I thought that with this being such a big tournament, I’d be more nervous. But for some reason, I was more calm. What did I have to lose? This was my last big tournament as a university athlete. Why be scared? I might as well play the best soccer I could.”
With her university soccer eligibility now exhausted, Beck will now focus on finishing her education – she’s a year away from completing her social work degree. After that, she’d love to take a crack at playing professionally overseas.
“Hopefully if I’m still in good shape and still have those dreams, I’d like to play professionally,” she said. “If not that, then coaching. I’d like to stay involved in the game one way or another.”