A trio of local soccer players is hoping to score some pride for the province at a prestigious tournament in Calgary this week.
Cassie Nazeravich, Nicole Davis and Mya Lee, who are premier division players with the U-13 Bonivital Flames, will be among the players representing Manitoba this week at the Prairie Invitational Tournament, which is hosted by the Alberta Soccer Association in collaboration with the Calgary Minor Soccer Association.
The scouting tournament, which falls under the Canadian Soccer Association’s long-term development model, is aimed at U-13 and U-14 male and female players from the western Canadian provinces. Manitoba will be up against teams from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Despite going to different schools, the players are longtime friends. Nazeravich and Lee have known each since kindergarten. They say that bond has helped them develop on the soccer field.
"It’s exciting to go this tournament. I feel a lot of pressure and nerves, because it’s a really big opportunity," said Nazeravich, 13, who lives in Windsor Park.
The Collège Béliveau student expects the higher level of competition to be a challenge, but she is relishing the task ahead.
"I think it will make me tougher, as I’m sure the girls will be bigger. It will be a tougher challenge."
"It makes the game more fun knowing that your friends are with you. They give you support and you get to know each other’s game, so it’s easier to understand each other’s plays. I hope we can keep playing together as long as possible," added Nazeravich, who can play in central defence or central midfield.
Davis, 13, who lives in Island Lakes and attends Island Lakes Community School, said the girls were "inspired to improve our game" after they were beaten late into overtime by Team Winnipeg Gold while playing for Team Winnipeg Blue in last year’s Manitoba Summer Games gold medal game.
"It was kind of disappointing, as we were undefeated until the final game. It was really cool, we bonded so well and made some new friends," said Davis, who is an attacker.
Lee, 13, said the success of Winnipeg’s Olympic medallist Desiree Scott has given a generation of female players inspiration and a yardstick for success.
"If we work really hard, the training will pay off during the tournament and it will all be worth it," said Lee, who lives in Sage Creek and goes to St. Maurice School.
"Manitoba is not the most competitive province in terms of soccer and Desiree’s the only one that’s made it so far."
"It’s important not to keep trying and don’t give up," Nazeravich added, noting the dream of all three is to one day play on the national team together.
To prepare for the upcoming tournament, the girls have been training twice a day — a 90-minute morning session and two hours in the evening. Not that they’re complaining.
"Soccer gives you so much energy and passion. We’ve been playing for such a long time it’s grown on us. Once you start, you don’t want to stop," Nazeravich said.
"It’s not just a game, it’s like our lifestyle now. It’s taken up so much of our time — in a good way," Lee added.
Nazeravich’s proud parents, Lynn and Garnet, say soccer has become a family affair and beyond.
"Cassie never complains about going to practices and games and is always looking forward to being on the field. And we are always looking forward to going to their games," Lynn said.
"We’ve also become good friends with the parents of the other girls and we share the carpooling duties. We are very proud of their accomplishments and we’re looking forward to seeing them progress in their soccer careers."