Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Armed with three years of semi-pro experience in the United Women's Soccer Leagues – including leading Calgary-based Foothills FC to the championship final last month – Emily Burns heads into her final season with the MacEwan Griffins playing at the highest level of her career.
Added to all that the goalkeeper has learned playing semi-pro is an obvious mental maturity.
It's in her answer to a question about individual goals for the 2019 Canada West season.
"I try not to worry about the accolades and physical proof of me doing well because I did focus on that for a time and it didn't work out good for me," explained the fifth-year Sherwood Park product.
"If I can, at the end of a game, say I did my best and I did everything that I could have, then I'm happy. At the end of the year, if I performed the way I wanted to perform and showed myself well and I helped the team get as far as we could, that's all that matters."
The marriage of maturity, her talent and a pro mentality honed from high-level experiences across North America and beyond has her at the top of her game.
Perfect timing for a Griffins team that has the best chance in program history to compete for a national championship – helmed by four fifth-year and six fourth-year players.
"For her to have the opportunity to get to nationals again and play at that UWS standard and platform, I think is very important," said Griffins head coach Dean Cordeiro. "To come back here to our varsity team, she's got so much more experience to give."
Burns was named as an honourable mention for the UWS Western Conference all-star list and led Foothills to the national final where they lost 1-0 to L.A. Galaxy.
"We're just proud of her efforts and what she was able to accomplish," said Cordeiro.
"Her name is getting notoriety, and rightfully so because she's just at another level. That's great to see and it's great to see her attitude so far. We're six days into camp and she's just been buzzing and has really been looking after the other keepers within the program."
Burns embraces her mentorship role in leading the Griffins' deep group of five keepers that includes second-year returner Bianca Castillo, NCAA transfer Breanna Truscott and rookies Taylor Blight and Kiarrah Pinkney.
"I definitely think I have decent leadership qualities," she said. "The keepers always have like a little union. We call it the goalkeeper union because it's just a different position. I want to pass my knowledge on the best that I can and let those girls know what it's going to be about.
"They definitely will push me, too, on the flip side, so that's good. It's going to be a healthy, good competitive state this year."
Burns, who wants to play professionally after her university career wraps up, feels she's improved immensely playing in the UWS and has wisdom to impart to MacEwan's younger players.
"UWS is semi-pro, but even being around the environment of girls who have played pro and on the national team, the biggest thing I've noticed is the mentality these girls have," she said. "They're there to play and it's like a job for them.
"Not that I've looked at it as a job, but more like this is my life and that's what I'm working for and what I want to keep getting better at. I think I've improved hugely in the last couple of years and a big part of that is playing in UWS."
Fifth-year Griffins midfielder Suekiana Choucair also played most of the season with Foothills FC and that's already paying off for the Griffins.
"It's an amazing platform for Suekiana, who was with UWS for most of the summer as well," said Cordeiro. "We can really see that her sharpness to her game as well, being in that environment for most of the summer has really paid off."
Fifth-year defender Jamie Erickson is also coming off a high-level summer experience, representing Team Canada at the FISU Universiade in Italy.
"It was a really cool experience," said Erickson. "It went by really quickly."
The Canadians finished eighth out of 12 teams as many countries fielded what amounted to junior national-level calibre players or higher.
"Our first game, we played North Korea and the rumour was that was their national team," said Erickson. "So that was a bit of a shock. They ended up winning the tournament. The team hung in there for the first little and still made it a competitive game.
"In the last game we played Italy and I think most, if not all, of their players play on the U23 team, so it's definitely a high level."
Erickson will aim to carry that into the Canada West season.
"It's exciting. It's my fifth year and we're hoping for big things this year," she said. "The confidence of playing at a really high level beforehand (has me) coming in feeling probably the best I've felt in my career up until this point. I hope I can bring some of the stuff I've learned back to the team and help lift everybody."
The Griffins kicked off training camp last week and will shortly head into a doubleheader of preseason action on Thursday against Concordia (11 a.m., Clarke Stadium) and King's University (4 p.m., Victoria Soccer Club). They'll also face Concordia in a scrimmage on Wednesday (11 a.m., Clareview Field).
Their exhibition journey continues south of the border this weekend as the Griffins embark on an American trip to see action against Eastern Washington, the University of Montana and Carroll College Aug. 17-19.
MacEwan kicks off the Canada West regular season on Sept. 7 when they welcome Mount Royal University to Clareview Field (12 p.m., Canada West TV).