Not Just for Kicks - TWU Magazine



Click here to read the article in the Trinity Western Magazine

It’s remembrance day 2012. At Victoria, BC’s Centennial Stadium, the Trinity Western University Spartans women’s soccer team has played two regular-time and two overtime periods to a scoreless draw against the two-time defending champions, the Queen’s University Gaels. The Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) National Championship will be decided by penalty kicks.

Spartans keeper Kristen Funk (’12) has shut the door on two of the four Queen’s kickers. Spartans Stephanie Chin, Alessandra Oliverio, and Natalie Boyd have each made their shots. The final kicker, fourth-year defender Colleen Webber, steps up to the penalty mark, and—in a repeat of the 2009 final against Montreal—seals the deal when she finds the back of the net.

Webber’s kick also made CIS history: with it, Spartans Head Coach Graham Roxburgh became the first-ever coach to win four national championships in women’s soccer.

While Roxburgh’s achievement is remarkable—their first win was captured after just five years at the helm—the soft-spoken coach believes an equally important part of his job is helping players realize there’s more to life than soccer. “I want to see athletes reach their maximum potential, and do that in relationship with the Lord,” he says.

In a world that emphasizes achievement, Roxburgh and Spartans Associate Coach Erin O’Driscoll (MA Lead ’12) have adopted a philosophy that values people above players. “Winning trophies may be nice, but it’s not our only goal,” Roxburgh says. “Sport is a tool, a training ground, to influence the lives of others.”

And nowhere is that more evident than in the lives of the players they influence, both past and present. Former Spartans have gone on to co-coach women’s FISU soccer, serve in ministries such as Athletes in Action, and counsel youths struggling with addiction.

“Graham cares about what we’ll be doing after soccer,” says Webber, a psychology major from Calgary, AB. “Other coaches care, but Graham is totally invested. The amount of time he spends on our program—travelling, recruiting, scouting, and doing game write-ups— makes him different.”

Each year, the team is given a scripture verse. This year’s— I Cor. 15:58—is posted in the change room. Roxburgh regularly takes team members on outreach trips to places like Thailand, Myanmar, Zambia, Paraguay, and, last May, Bulembu, Swaziland. These experiences, he says, outweigh any trophy.

“The trip made me realize this world is so much bigger than we are,” says third-year psychology major and mid-fielder Jessica King.

“This team is so different than any other team I’ve played on. There are high expectations, but there’s a lot of love.”

In Bulembu, King, Webber, and their teammates spent mornings volunteering at nursery and primary schools and holding soccer clinics in the afternoons. The final day of the trip, the Spartans played a match against the local boys’ high school team, much to the delight of the children who gathered on the school steps to watch.

“All the school kids, even the younger ones, were sitting behind one of the goals, and every time we scored, they went nuts,” says King, who missed her penalty kick, but scored off the rebound. “They were cheering for us the whole time.” Afterward, both teams formed a large circle, and one of the players prayed.

“It’s a time where, as a team, we serve others,” says Webber, who participated in both the Paraguay and the Swaziland trips. “When you forget about your needs, it puts things in perspective. Plus, you get to go halfway around the world with 30 of your best friends.”

The Spartans also had the opportunity to play against the South African National Team, who were training for the 2012 London Olympics. Scheduled to take on Team Canada, South Africa were keen to see how a Canadian team would play.

Afterward, the two teams exchanged jerseys and email addresses. “You don’t just play and go your separate ways,” says Webber. “You go and connect with other people.”

The culture Roxburgh and O’Driscoll foster helps create such a tight bond among the team that players are willing to do anything for one other—and for their coaches. “Graham and Erin have modeled what it is to be caring, dedicated, loving, passionate, and excellent,” says Webber. “They’ve helped me be a better soccer player—and a better person.”

King agrees. “They challenge me to be better,” she says. “And they’ve taught me how to push myself further than I ever knew I could.”

And the players are there for each other. “It’s a family,” says Webber. “This team is so different than any other team I’ve played on. There are high expectations, but there’s a lot of love.”

A native of Liverpool, England, King had to deal with racism in the city where she grew up. “People there have more aggressive temperaments,” she says, “in both good and bad ways.”

The experience left her somewhat guarded. “In Liverpool, I sometimes felt threatened by people,” says King, who roomed with Webber in her first year at TWU. “But with my teammates, there was room for me to search and discover who I could become, rather than just being a certain way because that’s all I knew.”

Over time, the walls she had built came down. “It sounds cliché,” King says, “but we’re like sisters. We get to grow together on and off the field. Being at TWU, I’ve been able to find myself and grow in Christ.”

King first heard of Trinity Western through a family friend, who gave her Roxburgh’s email address. At the time the team had won back-to-back championships. “I knew coming to TWU would be a challenge for me because the Spartans were so good,” she says, “but I wanted to play here.”

In 2010 and 2011—King’s first two seasons—the Spartans were favoured to win but didn’t. So going into the 2012 season, they embarked on a different kind of journey.

“Last fall, we were coming off of the heartache of losing in the playoffs the previous two seasons,” Roxburgh says. “We had to overcome the fear of losing. I take a lot of pride in seeing how a dedicated team of players could achieve that.”

“I want our team culture to help students discover what they truly desire—and link it back to Christ.”

And overcome they did. “When Colleen scored, it was a huge relief,” says King. “We put so much effort into the season. Our coaches said, ‘Embrace the journey, because that’s what you’ll remember most,’ and we definitely, definitely do.”

For Roxburgh, each of the Spartans’ four national titles have their own significance. He calls the first, in 2004, a fairy tale. “We weren’t even expected to be there,” he says.

In 2008, they won in front of a home crowd—and in 2009, against Montreal, the game went to penalty kicks. “That year, everyone wanted to knock us off,” says Roxburgh. “It only made the team even more close-knit.”

Learning to appreciate and celebrate one another’s differences is also a big part of how the team stays close. “We’re so different but, at the same time, we make it work,” King says. “Our coaches help us learn to understand each other better. Everyone is good at different things, and everyone contributes in a different way.”

That includes Roxburgh and O’Driscoll, who “balance one another out” says Webber.

A father of four, Roxburgh came to TWU in 1993 as the men’s soccer assistant coach under then-coach Alan Alderson. When Alderson left, Pat Rohla, the women’s soccer coach, took over the men’s team and Roxburgh stepped in to lead the women.

In 2005, O’Driscoll, who came to TWU to pursue her MA Lead degree, joined Roxburgh as assistant coach. The former soccer player, who has taken on increasing responsibilities with the Spartans, has served as associate coach since 2008.

To the team, O’Driscoll is a role model. “Even outside of soccer,” Webber says, “Erin has always been there when I needed someone to talk to.”

O’Driscoll also plays a significant role on the field; she coaches Webber, along with teammates Nikki Byrne, Jilian Dietrich, Jennifer Castillo, and Funk, who make up the back five—the last line of defense.
“Erin is just as much a part of the back line as we are,” says Webber.

Looking forward to the 2013 championships, Webber concedes it isn’t going to be easy. “But I think we have a good chance of contending,” she says. “After all, we have the best coaches in the CIS.”

With four national titles under his belt (second only to the University of British Columbia with five), five Canada West gold medals (2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, and 2012), and a record of 160-66-38 in CIS play, Roxburgh could easily become prideful.

But the 2011 cis Coach of the Year and Canada West Coach of the Year in 2009 and 2011 is focused on the end goal. “I want our team culture to help students discover what they truly desire—and link it back to Christ,” Roxburgh says. “That’s better than any accolade.”

-TW Magazine-

Last Updated: 2013-05-27
Author: Wendy Delamont Lees

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