While eyes are glued to the Women’s World Cup in France, some female soccer stars are grabbing the spotlight closer to home.
Sydney Tuk and Brylin Shuttleworth are West Kildonan Collegiate student athletes recently recruited to the University of Manitoba women’s soccer team a year ahead of schedule.
Still finishing Grade 11, both are committed to the Bisons program for the fall of 2020.
Two others on the Wolverines squad, also in Grade 11, have accepted offers to post-secondary institutions, but have yet to divulge where they’re headed.
Wolverines head coach Austin Benevides says the early recruitment of four key members of the recently crowned provincial AAAA high school championship team is a big deal for the school.
"When you look at West K, you think lacrosse or hockey or football. You don’t really say, soccer," Benevides said. "So, I think this is really going to help brand ourselves."
Having four athletes recruited from the same school, for the same sport and in the same year is rare, indeed — and it’s a first for West Kildonan.
The teens nearly missed out on provincials this year, after failing to win the KPAC division championship. But with a win in the wild-card game against Glenlawn Collegiate, the Wolverines earned their way into the provincial playoffs and defeated the city’s three top-ranked teams.
West Kildonan sidelined the Dakota Lancers and the St. Mary’s Academy Flames before upending the River East Kodiaks 1-0 in the championship match June 1.
"We were completely the underdogs," said Tuk, a midfielder. "But personally, I’d rather be an underdog just to take away some of the pressure. We knew going into the finals that (the Kodiaks) were a strong team, but we knew that we could win."
The victory was the first provincial title in any sport for a female team from West Kildonan. Wolverines teams have captured just three provincial titles since 1953, the latest coming 32 years ago, when the varsity boys ruled on the volleyball court.
"It just goes to show that hard work really does pay off," said Shuttleworth, the team’s goalie. "Even though high school soccer is on the lower level of competitiveness compared to a university level or something, it’s still a level and something that you can strive to be the best at."
Desiree Scott, a key member of Canada’s team at the World Cup, is a graduate of West Kildonan.
"It’s odd to think that she went to the school and that both of us do. Then she went to the U of M and both of us will," Tuk said. "It’s kind of weird to follow right in her footsteps, but she’s obviously such a good role model."
For Shuttleworth, it’s a combination of the two-time Olympic medallist’s influence and the Wolverines’ recent success that inspires her to strive for a career in soccer.
"It just means that it’s possible. There’s such limited spots (on the national team), but somebody from Manitoba did achieve it," she said. "It means that we have the right training here and the ability to do it, if you actually want it."
That means everything to Benevides, a West Kildonan graduate who’s been guiding the boys and girls soccer teams for three years.
"It’s pretty rewarding to have the opportunity to make the players believe in themselves. Coming into a season, we always say the goal is to win provincials, but we just see on most of their faces that they don’t actually believe it’s in reach. It’s nice to have the opportunity to see these players grow into actually believing in themselves," Benevides said.
Each of the new recruits say it’s special to be trailblazers for the school, and that they’re ready for what’s to come.
"We have a really good group of girls in our age group right now, so we’re pretty lucky," Shuttleworth said. "I think it (the provincial win) changes people’s perspectives a little bit. It’s going to put us in the eyes of people."