Karina Bagi will play Canada West soccer this coming season with the University of Manitoba Bisons. -Image: Warren Henderson/Capital News

Kelowna keeper set for step to university pitch

Karina Bagi will travel to Winnipeg July 14 to join the Manitoba Bisons’ women’s soccer program.

Karina Bagi was just 11 when she first tried her hand as a goalkeeper.

Six years later, with a Canada West career and university education on the horizon, it’s pretty safe to deem the experiment a success.

Bagi, 17, will head to Winnipeg next month to begin preparing for her freshman season with the University of Manitoba Bisons’ women’s soccer program.

A keeper for both the BC Soccer Premier League’s Thompson Okanagan FC U18 squad and the Okanagan Mission Huskies, Bagi is excited about the latest chapter in her soccer career and education—even if means experiencing her first Prairie winter.

“I’m expecting a lot of cold weather,” Bagi said with a laugh. “But I’m excited for the change, because that was one of my initial thoughts…not that I wanted to escape Kelowna or B.C. per se, but I just wanted a new experience, to get away and see where it all takes me.

“I’m excited for the soccer, the school and getting to know my new teammates.”

With several schools—in both Canada and the U.S.— showing a keen interest in recruiting her, Bagi connected with the University of Manitoba program last year at a Whitecaps’ showcase camp in Vancouver.

Then, after a visit to the Manitoba campus and further contact with Bisons’ coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas last May, the Kelowna keeper was pretty much sold on the move to Winnipeg.

“The coach (Vanessa), her knowledge of the game is so massive, she’s played in Europe and on the Mexican national team and I’m really looking forward to learning from her,” Bagi said. “The team was really welcoming, the university is really nice, and the facilities are amazing. It really was everything I was looking for.”

As a university freshman, Bagi knows she’ll be on a learning curve in Winnipeg, both on the soccer pitch and in the classroom.

If her work ethic and enthusiasm are any indication, TOFC executive director Kai Tolpinrud expects the 17-year-old Bagi to have success in the next phase of her athletic career and education.

“She’s extremely willing to train hard, she rarely misses training session, and she’s striving to improve all the time,” said Tolpinrud, who also coaches Bagi. “She’s aware of where she needs to improve and if she works on those areas, it should fall into place.

“Getting good education is No. 1,” Tolpinrud said of the benefits of playing university soccer, “but the soccer part of it is a great bonus, getting to play at the highest level Canada has to offer.”

Along with playing the keeper position comes the inevitably of dealing with injuries and Bagi has had her share.

But while a wrist injury and three concussions have kept her on the sidelines at different stages of her soccer life, none have discouraged her from pursuing

“I know concussions come with a risk and they add up, but I made the decision to go on, as one would,” said Bagi, who has a clean bill of health heading to Manitoba. “I have a passion for it, I’ve been playing soccer since I was four and I don’t want to give it up. I’ve spent so much time on the field, training and preparing for this opportunity, I’m going to stick it out and see it through.”

Bagi will see several of her TOFC teammates on the pitch next season in the Canada West conference. Eleven of 14 players on the U18 squad have signed on with U Sports soccer programs across the country.

Bagi, who will live on campus at the U of M, is enrolled in the Health Sciences program.

She’ll head to Winnipeg July 14, then join the Bisons when they travel to North Dakota July 17 for a preseason tournament.

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