Two Cloverdale soccer players are off to Italy this July to play for Team Canada at the 2019 FISU Universiade.
Kristen Sakaki and Elizabeth Hicks are both 20-year-old defence players with the Trinity Western University Spartans. They grew up in Cloverdale, and continue to call it home while they study at the Langley campus.
The two met in Grade 3, playing soccer when they were about 8 years old. They played for Surrey United Soccer together, first against one another, and then on the same team.
Kristen Sakaki went on to attend Lord Tweedsmuir, and Elizabeth Hicks went to Clayton Heights — “two rival schools,” joked Hicks.
Now, years later, the teammates are amping up for their Universiade tournament.
| Cloverdale soccer players Kristen Sakaki (centre) and Elizabeth Hicks (right) have been on the field together since they were kids.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hicks
Team Canada coach Peyvand Mossavat “had their eye on a couple girls from our team,” Sakaki explained.
Mossavat watched Sakaki and Hicks play at nationals in Ottawa, and then at the Keg Cup in Victoria, where they faced off against soccer teams from UBC, UVic and the University of Alberta.
Mossavat called Hicks and Sakaki after the Keg Cup and invited them to come to Ontario for the final tryout for Team Canada, where they met 30 other women competing for spots as well.
“I was really nervous but it was a really cool experience,” said Hicks. It was “a challenge for sure, [but one] that paid off.”
It won’t be the first time that soccer has taken the two to a different continent. As well as travelling across Canada with their team, playing soccer with TWU brought them to Peru last year.
“Out Trinity team, we went to South America to play the Peruvian national team and to do some humanitarian, missions work,” said Hicks. The two weeks in Lima and Cusco were “incredible,” she said, especially being able to experience “the culture, even just the different playing style of the [Peruvian] team.”
Sakaki and Hicks are excited for the next adventure, which will take them to Portugal for a one-week training camp, and then on to Napoli for the tournament.
The university games will have 60 countries represented, and 300 Canadians will be competing in everything from soccer to archery.
Both Sakaki and Hicks are looking forward to getting to know their teammates better on the field.
“Even at the tryout we were just starting to gel a bit,” said Sakaki.
“When you play against them and you’re kind of rivals and then you play together — you joke about it,” she said.
“‘Oh, you’re actually not that bad,’” said Hicks, as both laughed.
The most challenging part of the tournament will be “to mesh as a team, in such a short amount of time,” said Sakaki.
“I mean, you get to know them at the tryout but to play together, I think that will be difficult. We’re all good players, but you have to come together as a team,” she said.
For Hicks, it’s that and more. “Everyone is on this team for a reason — they’re all very talented — so it can be a bit intimidating.”
The challenge is “ just believing in yourself and trusting yourself, and learning to play with a bunch of new girls that you’ve just met. But that’s part of the experience,” she said.
The two depart for Portugal in two weeks, and continue to fundraise to cover expenses, which will cost them about $6,300 each, through GoFundMe. (Check out Hicks’ fundraiser here, and Sakaki’s fundraiser here.)
They haven’t reached their fundraising goals yet, but they are very thankful for the support they’ve received so far.
“It’s so nice to see the support of your family and friends,” said Sakaki.
“The amount of emails and messages I’ve gotten — it’s been pretty cool,” Hicks agreed.
The support from their TWU coach, Graham Roxburgh, and their teammates at TWU has also been phenomenal, they said. “We wouldn’t have gotten recognized without their support,” said Sakaki.
Coach Roxburgh “advocated for us and made us the players that we are,” said Hicks.
Their teammates have “supported us too through this experience,” said Hicks, “[and] affirmed that we should be on this team. It’s cool to have them rally behind you when you’re kind of representing them as well. It’s encouraging.”
Cloverdale residents can watch a live broadcast of the Universiade competition, on from July 3–14, will be available on the FISU website at fisu.net/media/fisutv.
—with files from Ryan Uytdewilligen