The University of the Fraser Valley women’s soccer program is celebrating one of its most decorated groups of graduating athletes on Saturday.
Sunayna Samra, Danica Kump, Tristan Corneil, Kayla Klim, Karlee Pedersen and Kara Delwo arrived on campus together in the fall of 2012, and together, they’ve tasted some incredible team success and earned significant individual accolades as well.
But though their university soccer careers are coming to a close in the rather near future, this group is hardly in the mood for nostalgia. If you’re shopping for sentimentality, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Corneil, quizzed earlier this week as to the most memorable moment of her Cascades career, responded without missing a beat: “Hasn’t happened yet.”
Indeed, while Saturday’s clash with the Lethbridge Pronghorns (5:30 p.m. kickoff, MRC Sports Complex, Senior Night ceremony at 5:20 p.m.) marks the final Canada West regular-season home game for these athletes, there’s still much to aspire to. The Cascades are the No. 9-ranked team in the nation, a squad with dreams of hanging a championship banner on campus before they wave goodbye.
“It’s coming,” Corneil emphasizes, referring to that most memorable moment yet to be crafted.
It’s this mentality, among other attributes, which prompts Cascades head coach Rob Giesbrecht to refer to these six girls as “a pretty special group.”
“They’ve been part of the rebuilding process for our program, and they’ve been the backbone of five straight winning seasons and five straight playoff appearances,” he said. “They’ve had a great commitment to the program as a collective, and they’ve done what it takes to be successful at this level.”
This group of grads-to-be isn’t completely immune to the tug of nostalgia. Prompted further, they offer many warm recollections – most occurring in 2014, when the Cascades won the Canada West silver medal and went on to a fourth-place finish at the CIS national championships in Quebec City. They’ve also crafted unique narratives while traveling the same path.
Samra, a midfielder from Langley, is “one of the most talented players we’ve had in our program,” according to Giesbrecht. Blessed with the skillset to facilitate the offence or play a shutdown defensive role in the middle of the pitch, Samra was a starter from Day 1 – in fact, each member of this class had significant roles as rookies – and has grown greatly in her leadership ability over the years.
“As I got more comfortable on the team, I noticed it outside, in my classes too,” she explained. “I came in (as a first-year student) and I was so scared. I didn’t talk to anyone in my classes. I sat in the back. Now I sit in the front, and when we have group work, I’m like, ‘OK, let’s go, everybody come over here!’ My mom’s noticed it, even at home. I’m different than I was in high school. I just take things a little bit more seriously.”
Kump plays with an edge and has long been one of the Cascades’ hardest-working players, Giesbrecht noted. The diminutive midfielder from Surrey tends to step up in the biggest moments – case in point, she scored the team’s first goal at the 2014 CIS nationals.
“I was a timid little 5’2” rookie coming in my first year,” she recalled. “I was very intimidated by a lot of girls. I just knew I had to work hard and earn my spot, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy – and it still isn’t to this day.
“I’ve grown tremendously since my first year, and I owe it to the program, I think. Rob’s been great, UFV as a whole university has been great. It’s been a great experience.”
Corneil, an outstanding centre back from Cloverdale, is regarded throughout the conference as one of the best at her position – notably, being voted a Canada West first team all-star last season. She’s “a beast,” Giesbrecht said, consistently winning balls and keeping the Cascades in possession.
Last season’s all-star accolade prompted Corneil to email one of her former youth coaches – Gary Mason, who worked with her from U14 through U18 at Surrey Pegasus – and thank him for infusing her with the confidence to grow into a standout at the university level. The gesture is indicative of the quiet leadership she brings to the Cascades.
“Rob gets quite a bit of the credit, and Matt (Holbrook, Cascades assistant coach),” she said. “But how confident I am now is how confident I was when I left that (Pegasus) team. He (Mason) was a great person, and he has really helped me through.”
Klim came in as the backup to fifth-year goalkeeper Chantal Biagioni in 2012, but she earned a handful of starts as a rookie and was ready to take over the starting gig as a sophomore. Giesbrecht describes the Burnaby product as “a real rock for our program,” and that extends beyond her on-field performance to her leadership abilities. Klim won the Canada West women’s soccer community service award in 2014, and she wears the captain’s armband for UFV this season.
“When I came in my first year, there was a fifth-year goalkeeper ahead of me, and she was like, ‘Careful – you’re going to blink, and it’s all going to be over,” she said with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Nah, this is going at a good pace, I’m enjoying every moment of it.’ But now I look back, and I did blink and it’s gone.”
Abbotsford products Pedersen and Delwo have both made inspiring comebacks this season after recovering from ACL surgery.
Giesbrecht noted that Pedersen is a difficult player for opponents to play against because of her pace, toughness and competitive drive. It’s that competitive drive which helped push her through the rehab process and make a significant contribution to the team at left back this season.
“To be back with the girls we started with and we’ve been through it all together with has been the best feeling,” Pedersen said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The highs and lows have all been worth it. I feel so blessed every time I get to step on the field and wear that Cascades jersey. It’s been an incredible experience.”
Delwo has rehabbed not one but two ACL tears to return to the field this fall and put herself in a position to graduate in the spring. The holding midfielder, described by Giesbrecht as a “competitive warrior,” is one of the most decorated players in program history – in 2014, she became the first Cascades women’s soccer player to be named a Canada West first team all-star, and she made the all-tournament team at CIS nationals.
“It’s definitely been a journey,” Delwo said. “I’ve definitely learned a lot through this whole program, and it’s been huge for me to be back and it’s exciting. I’m very grateful to be back and play this last year out.”
There were connections amongst this group of athletes prior to arriving at UFV. Kump and Samra were longtime teammates with Surrey United. Samra and Klim trained together with a Whitecaps U12 travel team. Delwo and Pedersen grew up on the same street in Abbotsford and played virtually all their youth soccer together.
But when you invest in an elite university team together, there’s an enduring, familial bond that forms.
“I couldn’t imagine graduating or finishing the season with anyone else,” Kump summarized. “It’s going to be a sad experience when it ends. But we’ll still have each other.
“I think the group I’m with is a group that I’ll have for a very long time.”