Stephanie Labbe has played on the biggest stage in the soccer world. She won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics as the starting goalkeeper for Canada’s national women’s team. This spring, she’s hoping to add to her list of accomplishments by earning a spot on the Calgary Foothills FC men’s team.
“Growing up, I remember seeing Hayley Wickenheiser and then more recently Shannon Szabados doing it, and I think that’s always been in the back of my mind,” Labbe said. “Those women were trailblazers in their sport and did something completely different.”
Labbe’s goal is to lead Canada’s women to a World Cup and Olympic title. She feels playing with the men is the best training ground possible.
After a week of practice with the Calgary team that competes in the premier development league, she says she’s getting used to the speed and size of the players.
“The speed of the game and, of course, the physicality…For me, going up and challenging players who are 10 or 15 kilos heavier than the women I’m used to playing against…
“It’s just pushing myself out of my comfort zone in all of those areas.”
Labbe met resistence to the idea from many coaches until she asked Foothills FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. about an opportunity.
“[She said] ‘Would you consider me for a spot on the men’s team?’ I said, ‘Sure, we pick on ability, not gender,'” Wheeldon said. “So she’s come in trained and she’s working hard towards it and you’ve seen some of the footage… she’s a good goalkeeper.”
The players on Foothills FC have been impressed with her attitude and ability, saying she fits right in.
“Obviously you watch what you say sometimes when there are ladies or females around in the room as opposed to some locker room banter,” said Team Canada and Foothills FC player Nick Ledgerwood. “She’s been great–she’s accepted all of us, we’ve accepted her coming in–there hasn’t been a problem.”
And the goalies she’s competing against say it’s great competition.
“There’s a friendly competitiveness because again, we’re competing for the same spot,” Marco Carducci said. “We’re goalkeepers–we work together all the time–and we’re just all trying to improve.”
There are four goalies battling for two spots. Labbe will find out in late April if she makes the squad.
“Ultimately, as the head coach, I have to make the final decision,” Wheeldon said. “But I’ll do it based on the feedback from my staff.”
All signs are pointing to Labbe giving the FC coaching staff a tough decision.
“I hope it challenges young kids and inspires young kids–that they don’t have to go through where everyone is pointing them to go,” Labbe said.
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