Jo Ribeiro thought she was done as a CIS soccer player last fall when she wrapped up her fourth season with the UNBC Timberwolves.
But as it turned out, the numbers didn't add up for the 22-year-old midfielder from Prince George. Before she set off on her career as an accountant, she realized she needed to take a couple more university courses and is back for a fifth year with the T-wolves.
A lot has changed since the team finished at the bottom of the Canada West Conference heap after going through the 2015 season 1-10-3. Neil Sedgwick was hired in February to take over the head coaching duties from Andy Cameron and he's brought with him a new gameplan that just might lead the T-wolves to their first-ever CIS playoff berth this season.
"It's been really good, I think we have amazing leadership with Neil, he's a really great coach, and all the girls have worked so hard and I'm really excited about the season," said Ribeirio. "We all have improved so much this year and it's awesome to see that. We had a rough start, but ever since the first year we've improved so much. We're all a big family but now we're doing so much better with the soccer aspect of it. It's all starting to click."
Ribeiro says the team has bought into Sedgwick's high-risk, high-reward mantra, meaning they will be taking more chances on the offensive side of the field. That would be wise strategy for a team that struggled severely last year, scoring just five goals in 14 games.
"Everything is a new possibility and we're all trying to attack a lot more," said Ribeiro. "In the past, we definitely defended a lot more and now we're just trying to work on our offence. The fact we beat TRU, even though it was exhibition, still, we were getting success up front and that's a really big thing for us. We're getting more success in the last third of the field. I'm really happy with where the program is going."
The T-wolves went 1-2 in the preseason. After losing 7-0 to UBC and 3-0 to Grant MacEwan they shut out Thompson Rivers 1-0.
The T-wolves lost three key veterans from last year's team to graduation - goalie Jordan Hall, striker Sydney Hall and defender Tanya Grob - all big shoes to fill. Tonight at 7:15 p.m. at North Cariboo Field in their season-opener against the Winnipeg Wesmen, the T-wolves plan to show they've filled those holes and have built a team strong enough to be a serious contender in the Canada West Conference.
Ribeiro is one of two fifth-year players, along with striker Sydney Wilson. Wilson, a native of Prince George who did not play last
season so she could fulfill her practicum in nursing, has a nose for the net and will spice the T-wolves offence. Midfielder Jessica Erickson is back to health and ready for her third year in the CIS after missing the entire 2015 season with a knee injury.
In goal, second-year Lianna Toopitsin had the distinction of finishing last season with a perfect goals-against average, having not allowed a goal. Her only action was in a game against Trinity Western when she came in for the second half to replace Jordan Hall, who left the game with a wrist injury. Her team did not allow a shot in that 45-minute half and that's how they will have to play this season to find success.
"Lianna has been fantastic, I can't say enough about the way she's taken on the responsibility to lead the team, she has been one of the shining lights of the preseason," said Sedgwick. "She's made some fantastic saves when called upon. We're now laying with 11 attackers on the field, she gives us that dimension."
The T-wolves will have plenty of local content on the field this season. Thirteen of the 19 players are from Prince George, including Ribeiro, Wilson, Erickson, Toopitsin, Julia Babicz, Maddy Doucette, Tianna Rossi, Ashley Anderson, Madison Emmond, Tianna Pius, Shanna Olsen, Fiona Raymond, and rookie Julia Munk.
The UNBC imports are fourth-year Rhianne Ferdinandi (New Westminster), Kylie Erb (Summerland), Sasha Eidsvik (Squamish), Kaitlin Godsoe (Quesnel), and rookies Paige Payne (Kitimat) and Mara McCleary (Victoria).
"They've done everything they possibly can to grow from when I arrived in February," said Sedgwick. "They've been focused and open to new information and they've been giving a great effort and we've had some very solid performances leading up to this weekend.
"I love the way we're defending as a group and doing everything with one another, whether it's on defence or attack. They've taken on the mindset of preparation with one another as a team and that's as much off the field as much as it is on the field.
"Our goal is to keep the ball and stick to that playing model throughout the season regardless of the opponent. We're going to have great days and bad days but we're going to grow because we're sticking to a playing model."
UNBC hosts the Manitoba Bisons Sunday at noon at North Cariboo Field.
The T-wolves men's soccer team is on the road this weekend in Kamloops,where they face the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack. Last weekend in Vancouver the T-wolves fell to 0-4 on the season, losing to UBC 4-0 and 3-1. TRU split last weekend at home, losing 2-1 to UBC, folowed by a 4-0 win over Victoria.