Christina Rico has been playing soccer for more than half of her life. Like many kids who went through a rite of passage playing in youth soccer leagues where the rules don’t matter and the players score in their own nets, Rico started at the age of eight and quickly fell in love with the game.

Before having the opportunity to wear an Eagles jersey or to call herself a varsity athlete, Rico moved up the ranks in competitive soccer playing for the North Mississauga Soccer Club on the elite A team and the Mississauga Falcons on the Premiere B team for four years.

She became used to the high level of competition, and her desire to play at the varsity level in university became her goal. “Playing varsity soccer in university has always been a dream of mine since I started playing,” says Rico. But when she came to UTM, she learned that a varsity program didn’t exist despite the many opportunities to play soccer on campus.

In her freshman year at UTM, Rico played on the Division 1 outdoor and indoor team, the highest level of soccer possible at UTM until the introduction of varsity earlier this year. When she realized that it was possible for her to try out for the UTM’s first ever varsity soccer team, she didn’t hesitate.

After playing with coach Damian Yearwood in the fall on the women’s tri-campus team, Rico was thrilled to hear of her acceptance onto the OCAA squad that would compete in indoor tournaments throughout the school year.

Over the course of the year Rico has noted the team’s improvements playing against OCAA teams that have been playing at this level longer than anyone on the Eagles squad. “I believe for our first season we did great,” says Rico. “As a team we stuck together, listened, and implemented many of the things we worked on in practice. Growing up, I was always told that to get better you need to play against the best, and that happened this season for our team.”

After the team was unable to qualify for provincial championships, the freshman season came to an end. Rico, like many of her teammates and coaches, still believes that things are looking up from here. She has faith that the team will only keep improving in years to come, and with teammates like Justine LeBlanc and Danica Post, whom Rico mentions as two Eagles players who have mentored her and been integral to the team’s success, the future does look bright.

Another important element is the guidance of head coach Damian Yearwood, assistant coach Nik Pavic, and team manager Diane Fric. Yearwood, who has an impressive coaching record at UTM as a three-time coach of the year since his start in 2005, was excited to build a team and nurture players in the new soccer program.

Players like Rico are thankful for the effort he put into their development. “They are some of the best coaches I have ever had,” says the second-year sociology and linguistics major. “We are an extremely lucky team to have three individuals who genuinely care for our progress and success in soccer and in life.”

Coach Yearwood has nothing but praise for Rico in return, a player who met the requirements of self-motivated smart player. “Her importance to the team is beyond question,” says Yearwood, now in his ninth year as a UTM soccer coach. “And if she were physically capable of doing so, she would play every minute of every game.”

Yearwood sees Rico as a leader on the team and is excited to see her develop as a player. “Although she is just in her second year, her positive attitude and dedication enables her to lead by example and inspire the team,” he says. “I hope to see Christina become more vocal in the future in order to better communicate with teammates and become a well-rounded leader in the program.”

Yearwood and Rico are both dedicated to making sure that a dynastic future of UTM soccer becomes a reality. After sending shockwaves through the OCAA in its freshman year, the varsity program has shown that it has the potential, the talent pool, and the resources to take large strides in years to come.

Christina Rico is just one of the many dedicated and talented athletes UTM has the privilege to call an Eagle. As we continue journeying into the OCAA in an effort to establish ourselves as a sports powerhouse, let’s hope that more and more of our athletes, those who represent us outside the campus boundaries and wear the Eagles logo across Ontario, get the recognition they deserve at home before they go out and earn it on someone else’s turf.