Julie Lafreniere’s soccer career at the University of Manitoba ended last October when the Bisons were eliminated from the Canada West playoffs, but she was far from finished.
Lafreniere wanted to make the Canadian team that would compete in this summer’s World University Games in Kazan, Russia, and she knew she would have to continue training hard to give herself a chance.
The St. Boniface resident, who captained the Bisons for the last three seasons, attended a training camp in Victoria in November, and impressed coaches enough to earn an invite to the final selection camp in Burnaby, B.C., in March.
"I felt like an underdog," said Lafreniere, who was one of the few players at the 28-woman camp who wasn’t a Canadian Interuniversity Sport all-Canadian last year. "My name wasn’t out there as much. But everything went pretty well. I was a bit nervous, but I went in confident because I had nothing to lose."
A day after returning home to Winnipeg, the outside defender got a call from the team’s coach telling her she should start planning for a trip to Russia.
"I was really excited," said the former Bonivital Flame. "I had put in four months of hard training, so it felt great to get that phone call."
The style Lafreniere plays with the Bisons — a defence-first approach with the freedom to move up and support the forwards when the team is attacking — was exactly what Team Canada was looking for from its defenders.
"They want us to play as an outside winger offensively," Lafreniere said. "It’s a lot of running."
Lafreniere won’t be the first Bison to play in the University Games. Desiree Scott, who went on to become a staple on the national women’s team, competed in the 2007 and 2009 events.
When training without playing was getting monotonous over the winter, it was Scott who provided the encouragement Lafreniere needed.
"I remember seeing her at the gym and saying that part of me doesn’t know how much more I can put into this," Lafreniere said. "She said (the University Games) was the second best experience of her career after the Olympics."
Lafreniere’s experience will begin on June 24, when the team travels to Poland for a series of exhibition games and a final training camp. Then it’s on to Russia for some more exhibition games prior to opening the tournament on July 5 against Mexico. Ireland and China are also in Canada’s group.
"I think this will be the highlight of my career as a soccer player," said Lafreniere, who will be moving to Chicago in the fall to begin optometry school.
"I expect I’ll learn a lot about the game, and hopefully I can come back with some knowledge to teach the younger players to help the Bisons program."