Tristan Corneil took a historic step for the University of the Fraser Valley women’s soccer program last week, as she became the first player in team history to land a pro contract overseas.
Corneil, a two-time Canada West first team all-star from Cloverdale, B.C., wrapped up her fifth and final season of eligibility with the Cascades last fall. She’s signed with Rynninge IK, a club from Orebro, Sweden which plays in that nation’s Division 1 women’s league.
“It feels amazing being here and following my dream,” Corneil said in an email interview from Sweden. “I did not want to look back and say I wish I would have followed through on this. I am looking forward to making an impact on this team and hopefully getting noticed so that I can make the next jump in the leagues.”
Corneil’s dream is to play for the Canadian women’s national team, and last summer, she crossed paths with Team Canada head coach John Herdman at a youth soccer tournament in Seattle – Corneil was an assistant coach alongside Cascades head coach Rob Giesbrecht with the Surrey United U13 girls, and Herdman’s son was playing with the Surrey United U13 boys. Corneil asked Herdman what steps she needed to take to crack his roster, and his advice was to play abroad professionally, possibly starting in Australia and then working her way to the top leagues in Europe.
Corneil was able to find her way directly to Sweden via contacts in the local soccer community who have connections to pro clubs in the Nordic nation. Video clips of her in action with the Cascades were circulated and drew interest from four clubs. Upon receiving her visa, Corneil headed to Sweden to visit those clubs and quickly settled on Rynninge IK.
“The girls are awesome, it is in a bigger city, and I knew right away this is where I wanted to be,” she explained. “After talking with the other teams I decided to follow what my gut was saying and play here. The league is Division 1 and like most European clubs they function on a relegation system.”
Corneil, at 5’8”, brings tremendous mobility and versatility to the table. She was a Canada West first team all-star in 2015 at left back, and earned a second consecutive first team all-star nod in 2016 after shifting to centre back. She also spent time in the midfield – on the left, centre and right – during her five years with the Cascades.
In a press release announcing her signing, Rynninge IK coach Daniel Albinsson praised Corneil as “a quality player with attitude and great personality” and “a natural leader” who will “be an important part of both our offensive and defensive game.”
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Giesbrecht said he’s “very proud” of what Corneil is accomplishing.
“I love the fact she’s venturing out to experience this and to pursue her goals,” Cascades coach Rob Giesbrecht said. “She’s a player who was unheralded coming into our program, and through a lot of hard work and commitment on her part, she developed into one of the top defenders in the country. Now she’s getting paid to play the game she loves.”
Corneil’s introduction to European club soccer is off to a strong start – she suited up for two exhibition games last week, and played the entire 90 minutes both times at left-sided centre back. The level of play is similar to that of Canada West, she said, and the transition has been further eased by the fact she’s part of a four-player backline rather than the more challenging three-player formation she played at UFV.
Her time with the Cascades prepared her mentally and physically for pro soccer, Corneil said, noting that Giesbrecht, assistant coach Matt Holbrook and sports psychologist Roger Friesen have been instrumental in her development.
“I am a smarter and stronger player now than I was in my first year,” she analyzed. “At UFV I had the privilege of starting from Day 1. I started as a left back, then played left mid, right mid, centre mid, left back again and then centre back. By playing these different positions which is not normally the case for most of the athletes, it allowed me to develop my strengths to their fullest.
“I had a great connection with Rob and was always able to speak my mind about what I felt was going on. He pushed me to be stronger and mentally tougher. He also got me into coaching, which helped me see the game better and I include that in my style of play.”