By Koylan Azofeifa
With a little under two weeks until their first kickoff of the season, the Rams women’s soccer team is ready to turn their practice into play.
For the first time in the program’s history, the team will be playing in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Central Division. Prior to the pandemic, the Rams spent the last 14 years playing in the old OUA Eastern Conference.
Soccer switched to a three-division format this season as part of the OUA’s return to play plan so that matches would be geographically closer to each other.
“With the change of conferences this year, it looks like we have a good chance of making it hopefully to the playoffs and potentially further if we all work hard and together,” said third-year centre midfielder Jade Vyfhuis.
The Rams women’s soccer team will be playing their first game this season on Sept. 25 against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues at the Varsity Centre.
The team will be facing new opponents in their conference this year, which will include the Algoma University Thunderbirds and McMaster University Marauders.
This year the program is once again being led by head coach Natalie Bukovec. She is joined by assistant coach John Yacou.
“There is always pressure to continue performing at such a standard and even more pressure to improve on that last season”
The last season the women’s soccer team was together, they made it to the OUA quarter-finals, falling short against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. Due to the new division alignments, the Rams will have to wait at least until playoffs to potentially exact revenge against the Gee-Gees as they are no longer in the same division.
The team is focused on once again reaching the OUA playoffs. The 2019 season was the sixth time the program had qualified for the postseason in its 35-year history and the first time they ever advanced past the opening round. Should the Rams qualify for the playoffs, it will be the first time they’ve done so in consecutive seasons since 2006 and 2007.
“There is always pressure to continue performing at such a standard and even more pressure to improve on that last season,” said midfielder Brooke Pearson, who is entering her fourth season with the team.
After having a two-year off-season, the women’s soccer team has a double recruiting class incoming this season.
“We emphasize that everyone is here for a reason, and with such a young team we are able to adjust our play to keep improving,” said Vyfhuis.
First-year right midfielder and striker Julia Fasan said she’s made her childhood dreams come true, joining the Rams team.
“Playing on a university soccer team has been something I’ve strived to achieve since I was a little girl,” she said. “Now that I’m here, I’m super excited to get the season started.”
As they prepare for the season to begin, Vyfhuis reflected on the team’s goals for this year.
“As a team, we want to be there for each other and push each other so we can reach the maximum performance level. We know how far we want to go—with that we hold each other accountable,” said Vyfhuis. “We have a very new team and our goal is to have a cohesive atmosphere that allows us to succeed.”
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the team had to adjust their training at the beginning of the preseason. The team was only allowed to train twice a week and had to be in separate groups.
“But now everything feels back to normal. Everyone is trying their best to respect the boundaries of one another but, for the most part, training and games have been the same as before,” said Vyfhuis.
Pearson also said COVID-19 “has affected the structure of everything” and will add some challenges to the season.
“Playing on a university soccer team has been something I’ve strived to achieve since I was a little girl”
Vyfhuis said she knows the potential the team has and the heights they can reach this season.
“As an athlete, not being able to train or play the sport you love is always difficult no matter the circumstances, but I truly do believe everything that happened with COVID-19, helped individuals appreciate what they do more and the people they have in their life more,” said Vyfhuis
“There’s always a reason for something. Hopefully that reason shows on the field this season.”