After five seasons chasing her soccer dreams with the UNBC Timberwolves, Julia Babicz has come to realize the end of her career as a university-level midfielder is near.
Sunday's 1-1 tie with the Fraser Valley Cascades at Masich Place Stadium was the last U Sports Canada West regular season home game Babicz will play for the T-wolves, who entered her life when she started training with the team in 2012 as a Grade 9 student living in College Heights.
"When a program like that incorporates younger players, just like we do now with the Junior Timberwolves, it gets the community very excited, I didn't want to play for anyone else, it didn't even cross my mind," said Babicz. "I just wanted to play for my hometown and for my family and friends. I think if I would have gone anywhere else I wouldn't have got the same experience and I wouldn't have developed as much."
Babicz was nursing an ankle injury Sunday and was limited to 56 minutes of playing time. She was on the sidelines when teammate Sofia Jones notched the tying goal in the 84th minute.
The 22-year-old daughter of Walter and Michelle Babicz joined the team as a Canada West rookie in 2015 and has been a fixture ever since. Assuming Babicz plays all four remaining games this month she will end the season having played 68 regular season games, one more than the team-high 67 games Madison Emmond suited up for in her career after she graduated the Prince George youth soccer ranks.
Babicz is one of only five T-wolves in the starting lineup for 50 or more Canada West games. She grew up watching local girls take on major roles wearing the T-wolves' green and gold as the team made the transition from its early days in the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association to university soccer in the Canada West Conference and it made her want to stick with soccer.
"I came out and watched (Prince George) girls like Sydney Hall, Sidney Roy, Sydney Wilson, Fiona Raymond and Tianna Pius and that was all at (North Cariboo Field) and I was aspiring to play at that field and now we have this beautiful new facility (the revamped Masich Place Stadium), the newest in Canada West and we're very blessed," said Babicz. "It just shows the younger girls that this is a good league and you don't have to travel outside of Canada to get good soccer."
Babicz will graduate in the spring with a business degree and plans to apply for law school.
The T-wolves also paid tribute to two other Canada West veterans who won't be returning next season - second-year midfielder Jenna Wild and third-year defender Ashley Volk. Wild is going back to her Victoria hometown to finish off her education degree at UVic with designs on a career as an elementary school teacher.
"It's going to be so sad to go," said the 21-year-old Wild. "I think it's really easy to play well and have fun when you have these kind of people around you and a big part of it is the team culture Neil (head coach Sedgwick) has created. He's created an environment where we're comfortable to grow and to be ourselves and that's been really key performance-wise and effort-wise."
Volk plans to attend the Justice Institute of B.C. in New Westminster to get her training so she can work alongside her police officer father Corey with the Saanich Police Department.
Volk, 21, a two-time Academic All-Canadian has been a starter for 37 of her 38 games since arriving for the 2017 season. She's made the playoffs in each of her previous two seasons and despite a tough schedule ahead of them the next four games she has faith they will make the postseason for a third time.
"Everybody before us has worked tremendously hard to get to where we are today and there's some vets on the team who have put in the time," said Volk. "It's been a great opportunity since I've been here that we've been fortunate enough to make playoffs but it's a team effort. We hope to do the same this year and finish off on a high note and hopefully they continue to do it when I leave."