A journey is about to end, but Burnaby natives Isabella Di Trocchio and Lindsey Pulice are not looking down that road just yet.
When the whistle sounds in the Trinity Western University Spartans last game this weekend in Wolfville, NS, the end result is that they will walk off the pitch warmed by the friendship and camaraderie they’ve gained over the years.
Another championship is possible, too.
Five-year veterans with the Spartans, Di Trocchio and Pulice look back at the road and admit that there are many blessings to count, and to share with their teammates.
“This is our fifth nationals and we obviously have been very fortunate to experience this every year,” Di Trocchio told the NOW Tuesday in a phone interview from Nova Scotia, where the team was preparing for the U Sport (formerly Canadian Interuniversity Sports) women’s soccer championship opener. “We are very grateful for everything that has made it possible.
“I don’t know many who can say they played in four straight championship finals.”
Count two of those finals as great experiences; the other two ended with championship celebrations. All are part of the tapestry in soccer careers that began as a fun game played together as rambunctious five-year-olds.
Those experiences have linked them as serious student-athletes.
“I think for me, personally, this is different being that it’s my last year,” said Pulice. “This is the last time and opportunity to play with these teammates and to be together with this goal ahead of us.”
Thursday’s opening match against the Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks (past the NOW’s deadline) was the launching point in Wolfville. It presented a chance to reclaim momentum which had carried them through the regular season but ended in a 3-0 loss to archrival UBC last Sunday in the Canada West final.
The game has provided them plenty – a door to university life, new friendships and experiences. These Burnaby North alumni have been proactive in seizing the moment, time and again, to make the opportunities appear.
From their run with the Cliff Avenue under-14 squad that won the 2008 national crown, the duo have found harmony – working opposite ends of the pitch. Both branched off for different pinnacles as teenagers: Di Trocchio with the United Soccer League’s Olympic development camp in 2011, and Pulice playing two seasons with the Whitecaps elite program.
Being together on the pitch has made them soccer sisters.
“Izzy’s hilarious as a teammate,” said Pulice, a business major. “We kind of read each other’s mind. As a science major she’s so factual while I’m more dramatic. We butt heads a lot but there’s always a lot of fun with her.”
Di Trocchio said that comfort zone off the pitch is reflected during the game.
“Playing with her is a great experience,” she noted. “We got to know each other playing soccer. (Pulice) has always been a defender and I’ve always been an attacker, so we just connect.”
Last week’s loss to UBC refreshed memories of last year’s national championship final, where the Point Grey program won 3-0. They arrived this week in Wolfville motivated and hungry.
“It was definitely disappointing,” said Di Trocchio of the loss. “It fuels us because we haven’t faced any adversity during the season really. We didn’t have that (losing) feeling but now we will use it.”
Trinity Western was ranked No. 2 in the nation prior to the loss to UBC, but sit sixth in the championship pool seeding. UBC claimed the top spot, followed by Laval Rouge and the Ridgebacks. Only Laval enters the nationals undefeated.
Under longtime TWU coach Graham Roxburgh, the program is seeking to claim a fifth national title since 2008.
For Pulice, that notch now is a test – and one she feels eager to pass.
“Going undefeated was great until that (loss to UBC),” she noted. “So it became an obstacle for us and to see how we respond. Now we learn from it and use it.”
What they have learned through the years, including as students, is how they can count on each other in good and tough times.
“It’s been really cool how we’re still together, having started when we were five (with Cliff Avenue),” said Pulice. “Not many can say they started and ended (playing careers) with the same person. (Di Trocchio) has become my best friend.”
Di Trocchio, a 5-foot-9 striker with a boisterous on-field approach, was the Spartans’ top scorer this year, netting eight goals in 13 games to finish tied for fifth in Canada West. Among her markers were a league-leading six game-winning goals.
“I don’t go into games trying to score game-winning goals,” she said, “but it’s my job as striker to try to put the ball in the net. The success I’ve had this year is because of my teammates.”
Pulice is at the other end of the field, policing the backline in a calm, firm manner. Both players began their careers at Trinity Western watching veterans in their positions getting the starts. But the fullback found herself thrusted into a starting role as a rookie just prior to nationals due to an injury.
That first start in the 2012 nationals was a both emotional and challenging, she said.
“It was terrifying to be a starter at that final,” Pulice recalled. “I remember I had a target on my back, teams knew I was a rookie
and tried to take it to me. But it worked out.”
Trinity would win national titles in that first year, beating Queen’s University 1-0, and repeated as champions in 2013. In 2014 they fell to Laval, and last year were bested by UBC.
And while Di Trocchio and Pulice are among a core leadership group, the team has other Burnaby talent, including Burnaby South product Seina Kashima, forward Lauren Ehrhardt and fellow North grad Jessica Filippelli.
While no doubt tears will flow no matter what the end result is at the championships, Pulice said this final leg of their soccer careers has been a joy.
“To win it in my final year would just be incredible,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing to say we played a national championship, and hopefully can say we made the championship final every year.
“It sounds surreal to say that.”