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Henman's pre-game anxiety turns into goals for UNBC

Michael Henman's continuing mental health struggles no barrier to rise to top of Canada West soccer goal scoring chart

For UNBC Timberwolves soccer striker Michael Henman, a trip to the bathroom before the game to get sick to his stomach has a calming effect when he’s struggling with the inner demons that bring on panic attacks.

A different man emerges.

This season, in his fourth year of eligibility as a Timberwolf, the only panic evident on the soccer field is in the eyes and body language of UNBC opponents, who have had very little success trying to prevent Henman from scoring. His ability to finish off offensive strikes this season is nothing short of phenomenal.

The Langley native has scored 11 goals in seven games to climb to the top of the heap in the U SPORTS Canada West Conference. Through 45 Canada West games this season there have been four hat tricks scored and three of them have come off the feet or head of Henman.

His latest net-front trifecta happened Sunday afternoon in Lethbridge, where the T-wolves throttled the host Pronghorns 5-0. He collected two in the first half and popped in another in the 75th minute. Now with 11 points he’s just one shy of Canada West points leader Mohamed El Gandour of Mount Royal.

“My main thing is just enjoying what I’m doing and when I enjoy it good things happen,” said Henman. “I’m happiest when our team is winning and doing well. The goals are a nice bonus, but if we were winning games and I had no goals I’d still be just as happy. I think this school is a little different and we have such a special group and these guys are like my brothers. When we win games or I score goals, I’m happy because they’re happy and hopefully we can continue it.”

Henman has already shattered the T-wolves’ single-season record for most goals in a season by a player. UNBC assistant coach Francesco Bartlolilo held the old record with six goals set in 2018. Henman has always led the T-wolves for most shots on goal but until this year, for whatever reasons, the ball wasn’t going in for him. He scored one goal as a rookie, had two in 2019 and last season finished with three.

“It kind of started in the summer when I was playing for the Highlanders in BC League1 in Victoria,” said Henman, who turns 24 on Saturday. “Steve (T-wolves head coach Simonson) was coaching us there and a bunch of the guys on the team were there as well. I think you just get into a rhythm and just work off it. It’s definitely easier to score after you’ve been scoring because you don’t have the stress that you haven’t scored yet and that makes it a bit easier.”

Henman, a psychology major at UNBC, says he continues to try to stay on top of the severe bouts of mental anxiety that forced him to quit soccer for 2 ½ years, starting when he was 16.

“I wouldn’t say it’s behind me, every game I’m pretty scared to go out there,” said Henman. “I have days when I’m pretty freaked to go out on the pitch and perform in front of people. Usually when you get out there and get into the game, you kind of forget about all that, which is what I grew to love about soccer.

“I obviously feel so comfortable with my team and Steve is unbelievable. He’s backed me the whole way and I know the guys have my back. I’m nervous before every game and I’m sure everybody is, but I’m just a bit more nervous. I’ve thrown up during games, between halves, and it got a little worse since the summer. I used to let it really freak me out but I kind of just let it happen now and it actually makes me feel a lot better.”

He said he couldn’t feel much than he did on September 2nd in the third game of the season when he scored three times to trigger a 4-1 win over the visiting Victoria Vikes.

“That one felt good  - it’s my hometown and I know a bunch of those guys,” he said.

Henman’s scoring antics have carried the T-wolves (3-4-1) to their best start since 2018, the last year they made the playoffs. Ranked fourth in the Pacific Division they’ll try to improve upon that on Friday (5 p.m.) at Masich Place Stadium, where they’ll host the Saskatchewan Huskies (1-4-2).

“It’s just clicking for him right now,” said Simonson.

“He’s scoring in different ways, tap-ins off the line, breakaways, headers, it’s really good to see.  I’ve known him for a long time and I’ve known there’s this ability in him and it’s nice to see it’s coming together this year. Michael right now seems very confident.”

Henman ays he hasn’t wavered from his childhood career goal to play soccer professionally and he’s hoping to get drafted by a team in the Canadian Premier League. Eleven goals in seven games should be enough to raise the interest of pro scouts.

UNBC takes on the MacEwan Griffins of Edmonton Sunday at noon at Masich. The Griffins (2-2-3) play Friday in Langley against Trinity Western.

The UNBC women (2-3-1, fifth in Pacific) are also at home this weekend. They take on the UBC Thunderbirds Friday at 7:15 p.m. at Masich Place Stadium, then host Victoria on Sunday starting at 2:15 p.m.

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