Bisons women’s soccer coach a trailblazer and role model

Soccer has taken Vanessa Martinez Lagunas all over the world.

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Soccer has taken Vanessa Martinez Lagunas all over the world.

She represented her native Mexico on the international stage from 1999-2004, played NCAA Div. 1 at the University of Texas at Austin, and suited up for one of the giants of professional soccer, Germany’s Bayern Munich.

Despite all her travels and experiences, Martinez Lagunas — who moved to Winnipeg in 2013 to take over the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s soccer program — never got to play for a female coach.

It’s something that never sat right with her, and understandably so.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Bison women’s soccer head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas.

“At one point I asked myself ‘Can women be coaches?’ because I had never seen one,” Martinez Lagunas said.

“I don’t want that to happen to the next generation.”

There are 53 U Sports universities with women’s soccer programs, but fewer than 10 of them are led by female coaches. Martinez Lagunas believes a big reason for the low number is the fact it isn’t easy for females to get into the industry, and she can say that from experience.

Martinez Lagunas learned German in order to take the UEFA Pro License in Germany — the highest coaching certification available in Europe. She was one of two females in a class of 22 and the only international participant. Martinez Lagunas ended up with some of the highest grades, but it didn’t seem to matter. After graduation, the high-paying jobs went to the men and Martinez Lagunas couldn’t find anything worthwhile for more than a year.

“At one point I asked myself ‘Can women be coaches?’ because I had never seen one.”
– Vanessa Martinez Lagunas

“When I was in Germany, I had a scholarship in sports science and it was better than the coaching offers that I was getting, even though I had the highest coaching license in the world. It took me almost 10 years to get to that coaching licence, but the coaching offers were so low, from all over the world, that I wouldn’t be able to live off it,” Martinez Lagunas said.

Fortunately for Martinez Lagunas, that’s when the opportunity at the U of M became available and she jumped on it as it was a mix of her two passions — soccer and academics. Martinez Lagunas would go on to guide the Herd to five straight Canada West playoff appearances, something she’s very proud of, but she considers getting more females into coaching a much bigger success. A pair of former Bisons in forward Bruna Mavignier, a Brazilian who moved to Winnipeg the same year as Martinez Lagunas, and goalie Chloe Werle, are now helping Canada Soccer as sports scientists through their jobs with Canadian Sport Institute Ontario.

Bisons head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas.

At the beginning of this month, Werle, a 29-year-old from Winnipeg who grew up playing for Bonivital Soccer Club, was promoted to senior sports scientist with Canada’s senior women’s national team. Mavignier, 28, took over Werle’s old position as sports scientist with the National Development Centre program in Ontario and the female youth national teams. As sports scientists, the U of M products wear several different hats, but their main priority is to be in charge of the physical performance of the players to ensure they’re prepared to play. Both Werle and Mavignier worked on Martinez Lagunas’s staff as assistants and in strength and conditioning roles prior to getting the chance to work with the red and white.

“It’s better than any win or any championship. This is what makes my job so rewarding and so amazing. I love being a coach just to see the success of the people that I work with and to see them achieving their dreams is the best reward for me,” said Martinez Lagunas.

“I always tell them that I’ve passed the torch onto them, and they need to keep opening opportunities for other girls and other women.”

“I love being a coach just to see the success of the people that I work with and to see them achieving their dreams is the best reward for me”
– Vanessa Martinez Lagunas

Just like Martinez Lagunas, Werle and Mavignier, who are now based out of Toronto, didn’t grow up with female coaches. Now they’re helping the game change for the better and doing so with a fellow Bison.

“I know I wasn’t born in Winnipeg, but I have a passion for Winnipeg. It’s kind of weird cause it’s one of the coldest places in Canada, but I really love the place and I consider it my home in Canada,” said Mavignier, who originally came to Winnipeg on an academic scholarship through the Brazilian government and went on to become one of the most dynamic scorers in Bisons history. Mavignier is currently in the Dominican Republic with the female under-17 team for a CONCACAF World Cup qualifying event.

“I’m just really proud that Chloe and I came from the U of M and Winnipeg. We also have Desiree Scott, a very important player with the senior national team, and I feel really proud and happy that we all came from Winnipeg and the same school.”

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Former University of Manitoba Bisons striker Bruna Mavignier, is now a sports scientist with Canada Soccer.

Werle and Mavignier praised Martinez Lagunas for helping them get to where they are today and making them realize they could work in soccer after university.

“From the grassroots up, you need to be able to see that it’s even a possibility. I didn’t even realize growing up that the role I have now is possible. But when I did hear of that role, it was almost exclusively held by men. I think growing up, girls in the sport would likely have a little more initiative to stay within the sport if they knew there was more avenues for them not just in a playing aspect,” said Werle.

“To see women in coaching, staff positions, sports science, operations, and those roles, you get that passion reignited in you to stay in sport and you need examples to start that off and I didn’t have them until I had Vanessa as a coach.”

Martinez Lagunas, Werle, and Mavignier have all helped the Canadian soccer scene progress on and off the pitch, but none of them is satisfied yet. There’s still work to be done and they’re all happy to be doing it.

“I just really want to help grow women’s soccer in Canada. We won the gold medal in the Olympics, achieving the highest that you can, but I still think there’s a lot to be achieved with women’s soccer in Canada with professional clubs and improving the university system,” Mavignier said.

“I really want to be a part of that.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Trevor Hagan / Manitoba Bisons Former University of Manitoba Bisons striker Bruna Mavignier, is now a sports scientist with Canada Soccer.
Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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