Sports

Parker ends prolific Vikes’ soccer career

Stephanie Parker boots the ball from the net during university game action against UBC.  - Armando Tura, www.neatpicture.com
Stephanie Parker boots the ball from the net during university game action against UBC.
— image credit: Armando Tura, www.neatpicture.com

Stephanie Parker’s career with the Vikes has drawn to a close, but the former Chemainus resident is looking forward to life after varsity soccer.

Parker, a 22-year-old biochemistry major, will graduate next spring, ending her five-year tenure as goalkeeper with the University of Victoria Vikes women’s soccer team.

Parker had hoped to end her Vikes career with a gold medal when the country’s top university teams converged on Centennial Stadium in Victoria for the CIS Championships, but a goal headed in by Trinity Western’s Natalie Boyd during the semifinals forced the Vikes to settle for a bronze medal match against Ottawa.

Parker and the Vikes held the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees — ranked first in the CIS coming into the tournament — scoreless through 90 minutes of play, leading to a penalty shot showdown to decide who would walk away with bronze.

Parker let in a lone goal as her teammates scored on all four tries, leading the Vikes to victory. She said they were disappointed by their loss to Trinity Western, but a bronze medal finish to her final season with the Vikes was something she thought of as “quite an accomplishment, considering there are 50 teams in the league.”

Parker’s prodigious career began with the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association, where she played until she was 13.

In Grade 8, Parker enrolled at Queen Margaret’s School in Duncan and she was soon playing with the QMS Royals. Parker’s leadership skills and work ethic, both on the field and in the classroom, earned her the respect of her QMS peers and the school’s teaching staff, and in her senior year, she was elected as QMS’s head girl.

Hayley Picard, the school’s communications co-ordinator, said head girls are selected based on a combination of leadership skills, academic merit and kindness.

“A head girl will embody all of the school’s values,” Picard said, “while being friendly enough that any kindergartener can walk up to them and ask them for a hug.”

Parker was perfectly suited to the role, Picard said, adding teachers and staff at QMS “still adore her.”

When she wasn’t playing for the QMS Royals, Parker played for the Lower Island Metro Club from age 14 to 16, before stepping up to the Gorge Premier Women’s team in her senior year.

She tended goal for three B.C. provincial teams between 2005 and 2008, and attended the National Training Centre West program where national team coaches scout prospective talent.

Parker forged her relationship with the Vikes as a high school student. She trained with the team during their off-seasons beginning in Grade 10, guaranteeing herself a spot on the team’s roster when she enrolled at UVic in 2008.

At the beginning of her rookie season with the Vikes, Parker was forced to step into the starting role as the team’s veteran goalie was sidelined by injuries. She excelled under pressure, and awards and accolades soon followed. She was named UVic’s Rookie of the Year following the 2008 CIS season, and selected as a Second Team Canada West All Star three times during her five-year career with the Vikes.

Tracy David, head coach of the Vikes women’s soccer team, said she’s worked with Parker since the young goalkeeper started training with the Vikes’ goalie coach in 2006. Having an extra keeper on the squad was beneficial for both the Vikes and for Parker, David added.

“Goalkeeping is a very specialized position,” David said. “Steph was a provincial team goalkeeper and we knew we wanted her in our Vikes program, so she would come and work with our goalkeeper coach.”

During the spring term — Parker wasn’t allowed to train with the team during the Vikes’ competitive season — Steph and her father, Jim, would commute into Victoria from their home in Chemainus two or three times a week.

“Her dad would drive her down,” David said. “They’d come and she’d train and then he’d drive her home. Both of her parents were very, very supportive, but her dad was a real soccer fanatic. He’d watch her through thick and thin and bring her to everything.”

Jim died during the summer of 2011, David said, but Steph played through what “would have been a hard time for her.

“That just goes to show the strength of the individual we’re talking about,” David added.

“She played all of last season and she didn’t even think twice about it. I think, probably, she knew her dad would’ve wanted it that way.”

David was optimistic regarding Parker’s future prospects as a keeper.

“There might be an interesting opportunity developed for her,” David said, “and one that she may not have thought about before. The Vikes do a trip every year and this year we’re going to Britain.”

The women’s team will spend two weeks in the U.K. during the university’s winter reading break. If David’s plan comes to fruition, the Vikes will compete against some of the FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL) — Britain’s premier women’s league — teams in pre-season play. If the Vikes square off against an FA WSL team, Parker might be scouted and picked up by one of the league’s teams, David said.

“And because she has a dual passport,” David added, “that’s doable for her.”

David said she’s excited for Parker, but laments having to say goodbye to her prized goalkeeper.

“When you’ve worked with a player as long as I’ve worked with Steph,” David added, “you’re comfortable around each other, you both know what the other one is thinking and what makes the other person tick. It’s going to be hard not having someone like Steph in the dressing room.

According to David, Parker’s just as responsible off the field as she is on it.

“She’d do anything for soccer, she has so much passion for the game, but she’d also do anything for you. If you were in trouble or struggling, she’d drop everything she’s doing and help you out. She never lets you down.”

Parker thought no less of her coach, adding David’s confidence in her as a rookie keeper was a huge reassurance.

“Tracy’s great,” Parker said. “In my first year, I came into training camp thinking I was going to sit on the bench for two years. Unfortunately, the goalie that was ahead of me got hurt and I was put in the starting position right away. To have your coach not freak out having a first-year goalie starting for the team was great.”

Regarding life post-Vikes, Parker said she’ll continue to play with the Peninsula Co-op Highlanders — the premier women’s team she’s been with the last two summers — but she plans to take a year off school to work and apply to post-graduate programs.

“I’m thinking of applying to pharmacy school,” Parker said, “and I’m also interested in education.’’

Parker said she she’ll miss her team, but after five years with the Vikes, she’s ready to move on. She’s looking forward to working for a change and taking time to explore her options. Should the opportunity arise, Parker said she'll “definitely” consider playing in the FA WSL.

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