Often when U Sports programs try to recruit players they offer them scholarships, playing time or even rely on the name recognition and pedigree of a particular team to draw in talent. For U of M Bisons women’s soccer rookie Stefanie Young, what got the ball rolling was a friend.
Before the mobile defender was wowing Bisons fans with her offensive awareness and heavy shot, she was plying her trade in British Columbia and looking for her next opportunity.
Enter her friend and former teammate, Karina Bagi, a goalkeeper and recent recruit of Manitoba.
“She played a big role in me coming here,” Young said.
“At first, being where I’m from […] it’s really big in Vancouver and you get lots of attention from people down there.”
Young said many of the big universities came to the area to recruit for their soccer programs, but she wanted to go in a different direction. After a chat with Bagi, the Manitoba capital seemed like the perfect direction.
“[Bagi] went to the May camp here, I think in her Grade 11 year, and she was just going on about how good the university and the soccer program was,” Young said.
What really sold Young on the program was the warmth and passion for the game shown by Bisons head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas. After sending out an email expressing her interest in joining the herd, Martinez Lagunas met Young after a game and made an immediate impression.
“She was just really great off the start,” Young said.
“You could tell she was passionate about the sport and for me that’s something you need in order to help a team grow. You’ve got to love the sport to want to do [well] in it.”
In their first meeting, Martinez Lagunas mentioned Bagi had told her about Young.
After seeing the defender in action, she was impressed by Young’s style of play and offered her a spot with the team.
Now, three weeks into the season, Bisons fans are similarly impressed by her dynamic play.
Young scored her first goal in brown and gold on Sept. 7 by taking the ball end to end, physically outmatching a University of Regina Cougars defender and rifling the ball home. Then during a Sept. 20 game against the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack, Young let a cannon of a shot go from just beyond the centre line, going bar down for her third goal of the year.
Although her play is big and attention-grabbing, for Young, a calm confidence on the pitch is key to her success.
“I like to play a nice calm game, I don’t like to get all frazzled up,” she said.
“But I do like to communicate. I think I can help keep everybody calm because we’ve had some lapses […] it’s a big mental game and I think communication will help a lot with that.”
Aside from calm and communication, Young noted she likes to play “a big physical game.”
“I think that’s important because I know everybody’s like ‘Oh, Manitoba,’ they don’t expect a lot out of us,” she said.
“When we bring our physical aspect they’re like ‘OK, this team’s here to play.’”
With Young already comfortable and confident on the pitch, the transition to living in Winnipeg was made even easier for the Kelowna-born player, as she has family in the area to lean on and who will come out to support her during home games.
Still, there are things Young misses about her home province.
“It’s definitely different seeing no mountains at all,” she said.
“I do miss those, but I’ve been [keeping] busy so I haven’t had a lot of time to actually take in my surroundings, it’s just been go-go-go. But so far I’m enjoying it.”
When the topic of Prairie winters was brought up, Young said she is “looking forward to see what those are going to be like.”
“I do like the cold.”