Pandas shine with St. Albert talent
Local players make impact on University of Alberta women's soccer team
By: By Nicole Starker
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 06:00 am
There’s no shortage of St. Albert talent on the University of Alberta’s Foote Field these days.
Pandas’ soccer team head coach Liz Jepsen is a St. Albert product, as are veteran players Carleigh Miller and Darcie Kutryk, and also rookies Terri Kutryk, Fallon Dickie and Madeline Smith-Ackerl.
Jepsen has lived the majority of her life in the St. Albert area and coaches a few different local soccer teams, including a Tier II U12 Impact boys’ team. With five players from St. Albert on her Pandas squad, the head coach credits the St. Albert Soccer Association for turning out strong players.
“My thought is that St. Albert is very dedicated to player development, so they start at an early age,” she says. “They have a number of top licensed coaches, which means they bring a lot of experience in what is considered the best Canadian way. And I know these coaches are also dedicated to coach education and aspire to do great things for the players, and they do.”
At 22, centre-midfielder Carleigh Miller is in her fifth year of eligibility and final season with the Pandas. Miller graduated with a nursing degree last year and was named the Canada West Student-Athlete of the Year. She is a registered nurse in the surgery unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Miller played soccer at St. Albert Catholic High School and was named female athlete of the year twice with the Skyhawks.
Like many of her St. Albert teammates, Miller also played for the 2011 Alberta Major Soccer League Women’s League champion Edmonton Victoria squad.
Miller says she loves soccer because, “it’s just a very interactive sport. You get to play with a lot of different kinds of people and meet a lot of friends, and I just like the team environment, more so than individualistic kind of sports.”
This season marks the first time that St. Albert’s Kutryk sisters will spend significant time on the pitch together. Darcie, 21, says she enjoys playing with younger sister Terri because their skills are complementary.
“This is kind of the first chance we’ve gotten to play on the same field. Before, we only got eight minutes on the field once, so this is the most we’ve ever had,” Darcie says.
The centre-midfielder is in her last year of eligibility and will graduate with a business degree in April.
This is a year of firsts for younger sister Terri Kutryk. The 18-year-old Paul Kane graduate has started playing outdoor soccer with the Edmonton Victoria team and is in her first year at the University of Alberta. She said she’s enjoying her inaugural season with the Pandas.
“I came on as a centre-mid, but I’ve been getting a lot of time up front striking,” she says. “I really like centre-mid just because I know it, but striking is a lot of fun.”
Teammate and fellow Paul Kane graduate Fallon Dickie is also in her first year at the University of Alberta. Dickie, 18, is an outside fullback.
The physical education and recreation major says she loves playing with the Pandas, many of whom are her teammates on the Edmonton Victoria team.
“It’s almost like it’s a little sorority so it’s nice to have girls coming into first year of university that you know,” Dickie says.
That camaraderie is one of the reasons why Madeline Smith-Ackerl returned to St. Albert after spending her first year of university playing with the University of Victoria Vikes.
“I love the team, love the girls. I’ve grown up with four of them, so that’s nice,” says Smith-Ackerl. “I felt like I was missing out on the experience of being on the Pandas with the U of A and my friends.”
Smith-Ackerl, 19, is a Pandas fullback. She is enrolled in sciences at the University of Alberta hoping to major in biology and minor in psychology.
The Pandas will face third-ranked University of British Columbia at home on Saturday, Oct. 6. With four wins, two ties and no losses, the team is unbeaten with just under half of the season remaining.
“We’ve had some veterans step up and make some nice finishes and overall I think we’re playing tidy,” says Jepsen.
Last season the Pandas went to the Canada West Championship final, where they fell to Trinity Western in overtime. The U of A then went on to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championship where they finished fifth – and one spot above Trinity Western.
Jepsen has been the Pandas’ head coach for eight years and was an assistant coach for the three years prior. She says one of the team’s strengths is playing a nice, long passing game.
“We’re good at gaining possession of the ball, moving it around,” Jepsen says. “We play high pressure, so we play a lot of the game in our opposition’s half, lots of shots on net.”