Soccer was not always the likeliest path for Trinity Western right back Mya Bajpai. The Mission native’s first foray into organized sport was figure skating, but it wasn’t the right fit for her.
“I got really lonely,” she said. “So my friends and I signed up for softball and soccer. I played both for a few years but when I started to get competitive, I chose soccer.”
In her rookie season with the Spartans in the Canada West conference, Bajpai logged 877 minutes of action in 15 games played and 10 games started. Trinity Western finished the season 9-2-3 before losing 2-1 to UBC in the Canada West final and 1-0 to Ottawa in the U Sports quarterfinal in Quebec.
“Everything rides on one game [in the playoffs]. It’s much higher stakes and was definitely nerve wracking, especially for your first game. I didn’t expect to play a lot coming into university and then to play in nationals, I was so nervous. But as soon as the game starts, you get less nervous and settle into the game.”
Despite the wealth of playing time, Bajpai had a difficult start to her rookie season. Earlier in the year, she was injured on an awkward tackle and her coaches feared a serious knee injury. She missed training camp, the preseason and wasn’t able to suit up for conference play until September 9th. When she finally played against the Lethbridge Pronghorns, she discovered university soccer was a level up from her previous experience.
“It was just like a slap in the face how different it is. Your confidence is so much higher in youth soccer — and I’m not saying that it can’t be here — but you have to build up to that. It was hard because all the girls are faster, fitter and stronger than me. And the fifth years that we’re playing against have been lifting consistently for five years straight.”
Bajpai says the strength and physicality of the university game was hardest to adjust to as a rookie. The importance of aerial battles and strong tackles was made clear early in her season.
“It’s like I had never lifted in my life,” Bajpai said. “You have to get up [in the air] and when you get into a tackle, you have to go in 10 times harder than you did in youth soccer because the girls are just so much stronger. If you don’t, you’re never gonna win the ball.”
Rob Giesbrecht is an assistant coach with the Trinity Western Spartans and their Manager of Soccer Operations. He previously helmed the University of Fraser Valley women’s soccer team and coached Bajpai in youth soccer with Surrey United.
“It was a tough situation for a first year to try to earn a spot — and she did that. She worked really hard and did extra work after training to get her fitness up. When her opportunity came, she was ready. And she really did fantastic once she got the opportunity,” Giesbrecht said.
“Mya is a confident young lady who has a very healthy sense of self belief as a player. So that lends itself well to gelling quickly with a team a competitive team. She brought a lot of solid defensive play, but also positive attacking play for her position.”
The Spartans’ right back has lived in Mission since she was three years old, but due to a lack of competitive programs in the area, she travelled to Abbotsford and Surrey to play soccer as a youth. The long drives to Surrey five days per week helped cement her commitment to the sport and realize her talent.
“Back then she was just an incredible athlete. She was coachable, listened well and was a really hard competitor,” Giesbrecht said.
Bajpai was a member of the provincial program from U-13 through the U-18 and won three provincial titles with Surrey United before committing to Trinity Western. It was the school’s close proximity to Mission and the soccer program’s prestige that encouraged her to play with the Spartans.
“I fell in love with the culture and community there,” Bajpai said. “They’re winning Canada West championships and they’re going to nationals consistently. It’s always something I wanted to be a part of.”
In the new year, Bajpai will play club soccer with Unity FC in League One BC. She hopes to improve all areas of her game before lacing up her cleats for Canada West play next season.
“I’m really excited about her future,” Giesbrecht said. “If she gets into developing her overall strength and a little more used to the speed and physicality of play at university, I think she’ll feel even more comfortable and play at a higher level.”