Vancouver Island FC wraps strong inaugural season

It has been a big summer for the growth and recognition of women’s soccer.

Internationally, there was the just-completed World Cup in France. Locally, there was Vancouver Island FC’s strong inaugural season in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, along with VIFC roster-listed Ashley Cathro being named to the Canadian U-20 team for games this month against England and Northern Ireland.

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VIFC finished second in the nine-team WPSL Northwest Conference at 6-2 behind the champion Seattle Sounders (7-1, with the only loss coming against VIFC).

Only the conference champions qualify for the playoffs so VIFC will have to be content with a good season showing while the Sounders advance. It is something the Seattle team is used to.

The Sounders beat Pensacola FC of Florida 3-1 in the 2018 WPSL championship game in Norman, Oklahoma. That was quite an accomplishment considering the WPSL has close to 100 teams and produced the likes of U.S. World Cup and Olympic stars Megan Rapinoe, Brandi Chastain and Abby Wambach.

In North America, the WPSL is the next league below the pro National Women’s Soccer League. It is also the largest female soccer league on the continent.

More important than the standings for VIFC, however, is how the team seemed to inspire its fans, many of whom were female youth league players.

VIFC closed its season over the weekend with a 3-1 victory against the Vancouver TSS Rovers at Goudy Field in Langford.

The Island squad spanned the generations, with former University of Victoria Vikes scoring star Liz Gregg (née Hansen) and more recent Vikes grad Kiara Kilbey leading the VIFC season scoring parade with four goals each. Former Vikes star and Canada West all-star Stephanie Badilla was next with two goals.

Veteran Mariel Solsberg, another former Vikes player, led the team with three assists with Gregg and Kilbey tied with two each.

Solsberg and Gregg were also part of the last Island foray into top-level women’s amateur soccer with the Victoria Highlanders of the W-League. On the other side of the roster ledger were players such as current Vikes Brea Christie and Sarah Douglas.

Former NCAA North Dakota State first-team all-conference Sierra Bonham, from Lakehill, led VIFC’s crease unit in goals-against average at 1.43. Esquimalt Secondary graduate Emily Moore of UBC made the most saves with 19.

The idea behind the WPSL is to have players across North America developing outside their fall and winter teams.

“It fills a gap in the development pathway,” said Wes Barrett, who co-coached VIFC with Neil Sedgwick.

CORNER KICKS: Prospect Lake and VI Wave youth product Cathro, who made the NCAA Big Ten Conference all-freshman team with the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, was announced for the Canadian U-20 team’s games against England and Northern Ireland in preparation for qualifiers for next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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