If the recruits keep on coming, the University of Manitoba women’s soccer team might have to consider changing its name to the Bonivital Bisons.
Four first-year players on this year’s university squad are graduates of the Bonivital Flames program.
Kayla Gagliardi, Jessica Lukasiewicz and Meagan Sparrow came up through the club’s ranks from the time they were 12 years old, while Kaylan Strang played three seasons for Bonivital.
On a young Bisons squad with nearly half the roster consisting of first-year players, the former Flames are hoping to build the foundation for a successful five-year run at the school.
"It’s cool for us to all start together," said Gagliardi, a defender from Sage Creek. "I think the team will be super tight by the fifth year."
Since training camp started, the Bisons have had plenty of two-a-day practices and a handful of exhibition games. The games start counting on Sept. 7, when the Bisons play the newest team in CIS soccer, the University of Winnipeg Wesmen.
Although they haven’t yet played for keeps, the new Bisons all say the university game is a different beast.
"There’s a lot more one-touch, or two-touch passing," said Lukasiewicz, a midfielder from River Park South. "If you try for three touches, you’re done."
Sparrow, a defender from River Park South, said the pace is faster and the game is more intense than a typical local premiere league match.
"All the older girls have been telling us we need to be more aggressive," Sparrow said. "The game is definitely more physical."
Strang, a midfielder from Island Lakes, did stints at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota and at Glenlawn Collegiate’s regional training centre when she wasn’t playing for Bonivital.
She said seeing the success of former five-year Bison Desiree Scott on the Canadian national team has proven that CIS can produce players just as well as the NCAA.
"It’s coming along really well," she said. "We can definitely have players like Desiree come out of the program here. It’s a good inspiration for everyone."
One thing that might make the transition to university-level soccer easier for the new Bisons is the arrival of first-year head coach Hadyn Sloane-Seale. Instead of coming on board midstream, the former Flames are in the same position as the Bison veterans.
"Everyone is getting used to each other," Sparrow said.
The Bisons wrapped up their exhibition schedule on Sunday with a 2-1 win over the fledgling Wesmen. The addition of a second CIS soccer program in the city has created a competitive recruiting environment, and an intense local rivalry has already been born.
"It’s a little more competitive when we play against them," Gagliardi said. "We all know most of the players, so it’s a different type of game."