When fourth-year player Elyce Molyneaux stepped onto the soccer pitch for the first day of the University of Manitoba Bisons training camp six weeks ago, she noticed some new faces.
In fact, the new recruits outnumbered the returning players and now there is competition for every position in the starting 11 of the women's team.
'The new players are really talented and now the returning players cannot fall asleep because if they decrease their intensity, they know one young girl is coming behind them and she's pushing really hard'
For second-year head coach and former Mexican national team member Vanessa Martinez Lagunas, this year's recruitment went exactly how she wanted it to. She has made huge efforts to recruit nationally and internationally, even adding a player from Brazil into the mix.
This year's seven-week training camp has had the competitive environment she wanted to create. It's something she felt was missing during her first year at the helm, when the team held a two-week camp that included two practices per day.
"In total we have 17 returning players and 19 new players, so in terms of starting and fighting for spots... All of them are fighting for spots," Martinez Lagunas said at a press conference Tuesday.
"I tell you, the new players are really talented and now the returning players cannot fall asleep because if they decrease their intensity, they know one young girl is coming behind them and she's pushing really hard."
Martinez Lagunas doesn't believe in two-a-days, noting she doesn't want her players to be burnt out by the time the season starts. It's a style she picked up from her years playing and coaching professional soccer in Europe.
But it was quite a statement from Lagunas, who in the off-season managed to snag five of the six graduating players from the National Development Centre here in Winnipeg, which included forward/midfielder Amanda Wong.
The team is looking to improve their 1-7-4 record from last season, even if that means sharing a workout gym with the men on the Bisons football team. Yes, the women's soccer team is the only other team at the university that uses the football team's gym at Investors Group Field.
"It's had a huge impact, it's a wonderful facility," Martinez Lagunas said. "And of course, it has improved the motivation of our team a lot and as coach Brian (Dobie, the Bisons football coach) said, we have an amazing strength and conditioning coach."
So with all the young talent joining the Herd, Martinez Lagunas will be turning to the veteran Molyneaux for leadership on the field and away from it. Molyneaux is the Herd's most reliable defender. She played the most minutes of any player on the team last season, working the full 90 minutes in every game except one.
"It's been interesting to see all of them (rookies)," Molyneaux said. "But I've tried much harder than I have in past years just to show them a little bit that you're going to have to work for your spot if you want to get on the field."
One of those rookies, Wong, was named the Manitoba Soccer Association's outstanding youth female player of the year for 2013. Wong said she hasn't felt the pressure placed on rookies to compete for a starting roll.
"It's been good, I enjoy it," said Wong, a former FC Northwest and St. John's-Ravenscourt School player. "Everyone has to work hard to get their spot and no one can walk onto the team and have a spot. You have to actually earn it and work hard to get there."