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U SPORTS CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW | SPARTANS SEEK 6TH TITLE

U SPORTS CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW  | SPARTANS SEEK 6TH TITLE

LANGLEY, B.C. - For all the success that Trinity Western’s women’s soccer program has had in the last five years – three Canada West championships, two conference silver medals, two U SPORTS silver medals and one U SPORTS bronze medal – there’s one thing this particular group of Spartans has yet experience: winning a national title.

Indeed, the Spartans have medalled in three of the last four U SPORTS tournaments and played in two of the last four national championship gold medal matches, but the rather strange reality remains: not one player on this year’s roster has a national title to her name.

This year, the Canada West champion Spartans, whose illustrious history includes five national championships, have one thing in mind: bringing the Gladys Bean Memorial Trophy back to TWU. And for a squad that finished the season ranked No. 1 in the U SPORTS Top 10, possesses the Canada West Player of the Year in Seina Kashima, can lay claim to four conference all-stars and just recently captured its second straight conference championship, there’s every reason to believe this year’s team has the talent, the will and the motivation to return to the top of the mountain.

Coming off a 12-2-0 regular season in which the Spartans tied their program record for wins in a season, equaling a mark set in 2011 (12-1-1), TWU advanced through the Canada West playoffs with wins over Fraser Valley (QF – 1-0 OT), Alberta (SF – 3-2) and Calgary (F – 1-0). Remarkably, in all three games, fourth-year striker Rachel Hutchinson, who was injured for the latter part of the season, scored the game-winning goals.

Their playoff success, which saw TWU compete in the Canada West gold medal match for the eighth consecutive year, earned the Spartans a berth into the national tournament for the 12th time in program history and the eighth year in a row. Having won 15 of 17 games this year, including regular season and playoffs, the Spartans will ride a wave of momentum into the U SPORTS Championship that has the Langley side in form and set to make a return to the national tournament success that once saw TWU play in four consecutive national finals (2012-2015) and, going back further, win five national titles in a 10-year span (2004-2013).

Led by Kashima up front, who finished the regular season with a Canada West single-season record and U SPORTS-leading 13 assists to go with seven goals, the Spartans offence is as dynamic as any team in the country. TWU finished with a conference-best 44 goals in 14 games and had seven players score four or more goals.

Along with Kashima, the Spartans mined plenty of offensive magic from the likes of scoring leaders Gabi Short (7G, 5A), Amy Gartke (6G, 4A) and Jenaya Robertson (6G, 4A). Further down the list, TWU’s scoring success saw Kathleen Chin (5G), Kathryn Harvey (4G) and Elizabeth Hicks (4G) buoy a balanced attack. And all that doesn’t even include a now in-form Hutchinson, who can be as dangerous an offensive threat as they come.

While the trio of Gartke, Robertson and Chin have indeed pushed TWU’s offensive agenda – the numbers tell that tale – the Spartans go-to midfielders have also been defensive stalwarts, conducting the course of play with a high-possession focus.

Just behind the aforementioned trio is a Spartans back line that, over the years, has consistently rivalled any defensive unit in the country. With Brooklyn Tidder and Hicks, who was named a Canada West Second Team All-Star, holding down the centre back roles and Canada West First Team All-Star Kristen Sakaki and Aliya Coy handling duties on the outside, TWU has a staunch group of defenders that allowed just one goal per game in the regular season and only two goals in three playoff games.

In goal, fifth-year Rachel Sydor has been a tower of strength for the Spartans in her first year as TWU’s starting goalkeeper. Sydor earned all 12 wins for the Spartans and had six clean sheets over her 14 regular season starts.

With five national championships in their history, the Spartans enter this year’s U SPORTS tournament as the most decorated program in the event. But, history is just that. This group has only heard of such things. This year, they’re aiming to experience it.