She’s only 16 years old, but Madison Wilford is already one of the best goaltenders in Canadian soccer.
The St. Vital resident is in Portland, Ore., this week to take part in a camp with the Canadian under-20 national women’s team.
Playing against older players is nothing new for Wilford, who age-advanced with the Bonivital Soccer Club over the last few years, and trains with some of the province’s top male players at Glenlawn Collegiate’s national development centre.
"It’s definitely a good thing when I get to play with the boys," she said. "It’s more high-paced, like the national level."
This winter she’s playing indoor soccer with Manitoba’s upcoming Canada Summer Games team against senior women, and in the summer she’ll be joining Team United in the senior women’s league.
Wilford got her first taste of a national team camp last summer with the under-17 squad after she turned heads at the national all-star championships with Team Manitoba.
"I never realized how possible it was (to play on a national team) until last summer," she said. "I’m just focusing on the present and hoping to do well at this camp and see where it takes me."
This week’s camp is the first of several that will be held before selecting a team for the 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup, which will be held in Canada.
"I’m just continuing to develop my game, stay positive and working hard toward my ultimate goal, which is going to the World Cup, being on the national team, playing professional, and going to university," said Wilford, who’s still weighing her options but hopes to play for a Division I school in the U.S. after high school.
All this for an athlete whose first love was ringette until a few years ago. Once she was invited to train with the regional training centre, Wilford dropped her skates in favour of cleats for good.
And tending the net wasn’t always Wilford’s focus, either. She was a midfielder as a youngster, but when she found herself on a team without a goalie around the age of 10 she decided to follow in the footsteps of her two older sisters.
"I was always watching my sisters playing goalie, so the skills sort of came naturally to me," she said. "I made the switch and it stuck."
Of course she can make the big saves at the key moments for her team, but Wilford considers several other facets of the position to be her strengths.
"I’m quite confident in my net," she said. "It’s important to be sure of your place in the net. I’m also good at directing my back four, letting them know what’s going on and distributing the ball to them."