Flying with the Thunderbirds
Alix Varchol got her first taste of Canadian university soccer when the UBC Thunderbirds women’s team held its training camp in Penticton last August.
Varchol was among six local players who played in a scrimmage game. It was an experience Varchol loved since she dreams of playing at that level.
“I kind of know where I have to be at now to play with them,” said Varchol last year. “It was good. I liked it. There were times I felt like I needed to pick up my pace a little. I feel like I’m pretty close to where I need to be now.”
Fast forward to earlier this winter and the Summerland product’s dream has come true, as she joins the Thunderbirds squad next fall. The pieces for Varchol becoming a Thunderbirds began to fall into place as she trained with the team during an identification camp last fall. She then stayed in contact with coach Andrea Neil and her staff.
“It’s really exciting,” said Varchol. “It’s going to be cool playing such a high level (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) of soccer. So many good players from around Canada.”
Thunderbirds assistant coach Mark Eckerle, said first and foremost what they look for in recruits is character. The Thunderbirds feel strongly that Varchol will add a high level of character and integrity to their program.
"She's a very intelligent, very hard working player with physical qualities that are unmatched," said Eckerle, adding they are excited to work with her over the next five years. "We are looking for her to make an immediate impact, preferably in the midfield role."
Varchol’s Pinnacles FC under-17 coach Derrick Webb isn’t surprised by what she has accomplished. Webb, who has coached Varchol since she played under-11 soccer and won a provincial championship with five years later, said the coaches always thought when she was younger she had technical ability, despite being a smaller player.
“Now that she has grown, she has that ability to dribble with speed and take girls on,” he said. “She’s a very hard worker, kind of quiet. Until she actually gets the ball, and dribbling at girls with speed, she is just kind of unassuming. You can tell when Alix is going to have a good game. She’s kind of got that swagger to her at times.”
That swagger, said Ezra Cremers, head coach and executive director of PFC, is what they want to teach all their players to possess. It’s something, said Cremers, that evaluators and coaches want to see.
“It’s easy to pass and receive the ball, but to be able to distribute the ball under high pressure and be able to make moves where you break down the first line of defence with ease, I think that’s why Alix is so valuable,” said Cremers. “Her strengths are her manipulation of the ball.”
Cremers, who has known Varchol for two years, said that she can play anywhere, but usually plays midfield or wing.
“Extremely proud to have a player from this region play and be scouted for a roster spot at a school like UBC,” said Cremers, noting that Varchol was cut from the Thompson-Okanagan Football Club of the EA Sports B.C. Premier League. “Top-five in Canada is spectacular.”
Webb said that Varchol has only come to realize what she can do over the last year. She was among a few players at the Adidas SportsPlex working on her skills at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and she trains four days a week. Cremers said with Varchol joining the Thunderbirds, it shows other young players that they can make it.
“We tell players that they have to play for the love of the game, not for the success of the game,” said Cremers, adding that Varchol is a role model who coaches the younger players.
Varchol, who will play for the under-18 PFC district team, has learned from Cremers, but she also grew up idolizing Canadian Christine Sinclair of the Canadian national team and Alex Morgan of the United States, who she said made a career and name for themselves playing soccer.